Wood Street Clinic Blog

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What causes an abnormal EKG result?

An electrocardiogram, or EKG, is a simple test that doctors use to measure the electrical activity of the heart. This helps them look for underlying heart conditions.

Sometimes, an abnormal EKG reading is actually just a normal variation in a person's heart rhythm. In other cases, it may be due to an underlying condition of the heart or a reaction to a medication the person is taking.

An EKG reading is a helpful diagnostic tool. Once a doctor has identified the underlying condition, they can suggest appropriate treatment.

EKG results EKG results being held by person
An EKG can help visualize the electrical activity of the heart.

To many people, an EKG is just a series of lines. However, each line corresponds to an electrical signal sent from the heart.

Doctors know how to read and interpret these lines, which gives them a sense of the overall state of the heart.

The administering doctor or healthcare professional will attach electrodes to a person's skin, typically at 10 different points around their chest and on the limbs.

Each heartbeat sends out an electrical impulse. These electrodes pick up this impulse and record the activity in a wave form on a graph.

All of this happens in the blink of an eye, which is why an EKG is so important. An EKG can catch all of these tiny details and record them for a doctor to analyze.

Thank you for supporting Medical News Today What causes an abnormal EKG? An abnormal EKG means that there is something unexpected in the EKG reading. This is not always a sign of an unhealthy heart. For instance, in 2015, researchers found that competitive sports athletes regularly had abnormal EKG readings. The researchers indicated that the majority of these results were harmless and due to the person's adaptation to exercise. However, they still called for thorough screening to check for any other risk factors. With this in mind, an abnormal EKG reading could appear for many reasons, including: Irregular heart rate An EKG will pick up any irregularities in a person's heart rate. The human heart typically beats at around 60–100 beats per minute. A heart that beats any faster or slower than this may indicate an underlying issue. A doctor will want to run additional tests to find the underlying cause. Irregular heart rhythm Although it may vary slightly between each person, each heart keeps a steady rhythm. A person may physically feel changes in this rhythm, such as skipped heartbeats or feeling as though the heart is fluttering. An EKG will help doctors see how and where the heart is beating out of rhythm but will only be able to record the irregularity if it happens during the test. Since this is unlikely, doctors may recommend using a Holter monitor, which monitors the heart's activity for 24 hours or longer. This gives doctors a better opportunity to catch the irregularity. Abnormalities in the shape of the heart An EKG gives doctors an idea of how hard the heart is working in each specific area. An abnormal EKG result can be a sign that one region or section of the heart is larger or thicker than the others. A thickened heart could mean that the heart is working too hard to pump blood. This may be due to a congenital or acquired heart condition. Electrolyte imbalances Electrolyte minerals are important for overall health, but they also play a role in heart health and may even cause an abnormal EKG. Electrolytes conduct electricity in the body and help keep the heart rate and rhythm consistent. An imbalance in electrolyte minerals such as potassium, sodium, calcium, or magnesium may cause an abnormal EKG reading. Medication side effects Taking certain medication may cause abnormal EKG results.
Taking certain medications may cause abnormal EKG results. Some medications may cause an abnormal EKG reading. Anyone who is getting an EKG should discuss any medications they are taking with a doctor. It may also help to check the list of side effects provided on the packaging. Some medications that help balance the heart rhythm may actually cause abnormal heart rhythms in some people. Such medications include certain beta-blockers and sodium channel blockers. If a doctor thinks that the type of medication a person is taking may be causing their symptoms, they may suggest alternatives and then do a follow-up EKG to see how the person responds to the new medication. High blood pressure Other aspects of heart disease may lead to an abnormal EKG. For example, people with high blood pressure are more likely to have an abnormal EKG reading. Heart attack Sometimes, an abnormal EKG result may be a sign of a serious issue, such as a heart attack. When a person has a heart attack, the heart can lose its fresh supply of blood, which can cause tissue damage and even cell death. Damaged tissue will not conduct electricity as well as healthy tissue, which could cause the abnormal EKG reading. Treatments Treatment for an abnormal EKG depends on the underlying issue. If the doctor suspects the abnormal EKG is a result of normal variances in the human heart, they may recommend no treatment at all. If a certain medication is causing the abnormal readings, they may recommend an alternative. If the doctor suspects that a person has an electrolyte imbalance, they may suggest fluids or medications that contain electrolytes. Other issues may require more individualized treatments. An arrhythmia may or may not require treatment. Most arrhythmias pose little to no risk to the person, as they may not cause symptoms or interfere with the heart's function. On the other hand, some arrhythmias may interfere with the heart's ability to pump blood. If a heart is having trouble keeping a steady rhythm, a doctor may recommend medications or ask the person to wear a pacemaker to help restore the heart's rhythm. Anyone having a heart attack will need emergency medical treatment. The person may also need to undergo surgeries such as angioplasty to keep the blood flowing and reduce damage to the tissues. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today When do you need an EKG? Man having an electrocardiogram or EKG in hospital
A doctor may recommend an EKG to diagnose or monitor heart conditions. Many people will get an EKG reading at some point in their lives, often due to experiencing common symptoms such as chronic chest pain, shortness of breath, or a rapid pulse. Doctors may also regularly use EKGs to check on people with diagnosed heart disease. Another reason to get an EKG is experiencing heart palpitations or arrhythmia. A person may feel as though their heart skips a beat, that their heart is fluttering, or that it is beating very strongly. Doctors may recommend an EKG here to check for any underlying issues. They may order additional tests depending on the results. Summary An EKG is a risk-free and noninvasive procedure. It does not send electricity into the body and will not cause any pain. It is an important tool for diagnosing conditions affecting the heart. Most people will undergo an EKG at some point. Although having an abnormal EKG can seem scary, it is important to understand that it is just one part of a proper diagnosis. Many things can cause an abnormal EKG, and not all of them are dangerous. A doctor can recommend further tests to diagnose the underlying cause of a person's symptoms and EKG results.
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Even a low intake of red and processed meat may raise death risk

The connection between eating large amounts of red or processed meat and certain diseases is well-known, but a new study suggests that consuming even a small amount of these foods could be risky.
man eating read meat
New research suggests that eating red meat even occasionally may shorten life.

The world is eating more meat. The global consumption of meat and poultry has increased in both developed and developing countries over the past 50 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Red meat is the most popular type of meat in the United States. Processed meat that has undergone curing, smoking, or salting to alter its flavor makes up 22 percent of U.S. meat consumption, according to a 2011 study.

Research has linked both red and processed meat to a higher risk of certain health conditions, such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and even some cancers.

Previous studies have examined the effects of eating moderate-to-high amounts of meat on mortality. However, the impact of consuming a small amount has remained largely untested.

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Finding the perfect sample

Researchers at Loma Linda University Health in California aimed to address this imbalance in a new study.

"We wanted to take a closer look at the association of low intakes of red and processed meat with all-cause, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer mortality compared to those who didn't eat meat at all," states lead author Saeed Mastour Alshahrani.

The team's findings suggest that eating small amounts of red and processed meat could increase a person's risk of death.

The researchers used data from people who took part in the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2). Between 2002 and 2007, this cohort study recruited close to 96,000 Seventh-day Adventists living in the U.S. and Canada.

Adventists are an interesting group for scientists looking into factors relating to the diet. About half of these believers are vegetarian, and those who do choose to eat meat consume very little of it.

To see whether meat consumption had any effect on mortality, researchers analyzed two factors. The first was the cause of death of more than 7,900 Adventists over an 11-year period. The second was a dietary assessment of the same individuals using food frequency questionnaires.

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Higher risk of death

The researchers noted that meat intake was low. Among the people who reported consuming meat, 90 percent ate 2 ounces or less of red meat per day.

When they evaluated the deaths, the investigators found that cardiovascular disease was responsible for almost 2,600 of them, while more than 1,800 deaths related to cancer.

The results, which feature in the journal Nutrients, showed that there was an association between the consumption of a combination of red and processed meats and a higher risk of both total and cardiovascular disease deaths. Processed meat alone did not show a similar trend.

Certain groups appeared to be more susceptible to specific meat types. For example, unprocessed red meat was "significantly" related to a risk of all-cause mortality for white people but not for black people. When the researchers looked specifically at the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, they noted that this was only significant among women and black people.

Black people and women also had an increased risk of all-cause mortality from eating processed meat. However, the team only identified a link between processed meat consumption and cardiovascular disease in women.

The researchers did not report any significant findings relating to cancer, but they noted that other studies have found evidence of a relationship between meat intake and this disease. As a result, they suggest that this association may only become apparent with higher meat consumption.

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A new conclusion

The authors of the new study believe that their work supports previous conclusions. "Our findings give additional weight to the evidence already suggesting that eating red and processed meat may negatively impact health and lifespan," comments Michael Orlich, Ph.D., co-author of the study and co-director of AHS-2.

The study also shows something new by demonstrating that eating even a small amount of red and processed meat could be worse for health than eating none.

The study has both strengths and limitations. Researchers adjusted the results for various factors, including obesity, physical activity, and low intake of fruit and vegetables.

To strengthen the findings, they also took into account specific dietary factors, such as intake of dairy, whole grains, and legumes. It also helped that relatively few of the participants smoked or drank alcohol.

However, the study relied on questionnaires, which could cast doubt over the results because people may not recall consuming food that they eat very little of or consume irregularly.

More research will be necessary to support the findings of this study. It is also still unclear precisely what causes red and processed meat to lead to adverse health outcomes.

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What are the health benefits of beetroot juice?

Beetroot juice may offer a range of health benefits due to its unique combination of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Beetroots, or beets, have risen in popularity now that researchers have identified links between drinking beetroot juice and lowered blood pressure, reduced inflammation, and improved athletic performance.

Beetroots have an excellent nutritional profile that includes plenty of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They also contain unique bioactive compounds called betalains, which may benefit a person's health.

People can get these benefits from consuming whole beetroots or their juice.

In this article, we look at the research behind six proposed health benefits of beetroot juice. We also cover dosage and how to make the juice at home.

1. Good nutritional profile Beetroot juice in glass top down view with lemon and lettuce
Beetroot juice is rich in a range of nutrients.

Beetroot juice contains a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals. Drinking this vegetable juice regularly can help prevent deficiencies in these nutrients.

A 100-milliliter (ml) serving of organic beetroot juice, which is equivalent to a small glass, contains 29 calories, no fat, and the following nutrients:

0.42 grams (g) of protein 7.50 g of carbohydrates 5.42 g of sugar 0.40 g of fiber

Beetroot juice also contains antioxidants. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress, which research has linked to the development of cancer, inflammatory conditions, and heart disease.

Beetroots are a rich source of essential vitamins and minerals, including:

folate, which is important for DNA and cell health vitamin C, an antioxidant that plays a role in wound healing and immune system function vitamin B-6, which supports metabolism and red blood cell production calcium, an essential mineral for bone growth and strength iron, which allows red blood cells to carry oxygen magnesium, a mineral that supports immune, heart, muscle, and nerve health manganese, which contributes to the regulation of metabolism and blood sugar levels phosphorous, an essential nutrient for teeth, bones, and cell repair copper, which plays a role in making collagen, maintaining bones and blood vessels, and supporting immune function zinc, which promotes wound healing, supports the immune system, and encourages normal growth

Beetroots also contain other beneficial compounds:

Phytochemicals give plants their color and flavor. They also stimulate the immune system, minimize inflammation, and reduce oxidative stress. Betalains are responsible for the deep red color of beetroots. These pigments have promising antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antitoxic properties. Nitrates refer to a group of organic compounds that improve blood flow and promote heart health. 2. Improving blood pressure A growing body of research suggests that beetroots can help lower a person's blood pressure. Researchers believe that this is due to their nitrate content. Beets naturally contain large quantities of nitrates, which the body converts into nitric oxide. This compound dilates the blood vessels, which improves blood flow and lowers overall blood pressure. In a recent study, researchers gave participants 70 ml of either nitrate-rich beetroot juice or a nitrate-depleted placebo juice. The blood pressure of those in the test group decreased by 5.2 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) more than that of those in the placebo group after just 30 minutes. However, the effect of the concentrated beetroot juice subsided within 24 hours. Another small-scale study showed that drinking 250 ml of beetroot juice every day for 4 weeks lowered blood pressure among people with hypertension. However, people who are already taking medication to lower their blood pressure may not notice the same benefits. The findings of a 2015 study involving people who were taking blood pressure medications revealed that nitrate-rich beetroot juice did not lower blood pressure after 1 week compared with nitrate-depleted beetroot juice. 3. Reducing inflammation Beetroot juice contains anti-inflammatory compounds called betalains. According to a 2015 review, betalains inhibit specific signaling pathways that play a role in inflammatory diseases. A 2014 study showed that a betalain called phenethylamine-betaxanthin reduced the activity of an inflammatory enzyme by 32 percent. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today 4. Preventing anemia Anemia can cause headaches and fatigue.
Anemia can cause headaches and fatigue. Beetroots are rich in iron, an essential component of red blood cells. Without iron, red blood cells cannot transport oxygen around the body. People who have low iron levels can sometimes develop a condition called iron deficiency anemia. Adding sources of iron to the diet can reduce the risk of this condition. The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include: 5. Protecting the liver Beetroot juice contains antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin B-6, and iron. These compounds help protect the liver from inflammation and oxidative stress while enhancing its ability to remove toxins from the body. A recent small-scale animal study in rats with liver injury found that the rodents that received a beetroot extract had minimal liver damage in comparison with control rats. 6. Boosting athletic performance Certain compounds in beetroot juice, such as nitrates and betalains, may improve athletic performance. According to a 2017 systematic review, nitrates can boost a person's athletic efficiency by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the muscles. A 2018 study looked at the effects of betalain on 28 trained male cyclists. The cyclists received 100 mg of either beetroot concentrate or placebo every day for a week. Compared with the placebo group, the beetroot concentrate group had higher exercise efficiency and increased blood flow. Dosage Currently, there are no official dosage recommendations for beetroot juice. According to a 2014 study, drinking one 250-ml glass of beetroot juice per day may lower blood pressure. The juice did not cause any serious side effects, but the participants did report a change in the color of their urine. The authors noted that the ability of beetroot juice to lower blood pressure depends on the nitrate concentration, which can vary widely among different beetroot juices. The authors recommend a concentration of 4 millimoles per liter (mmol) of nitrate to lower blood pressure in healthy adults. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Side effects person drinking smoothie or juice made of beetroot-or pomegranate at breakfast table.
A person with low blood pressure should avoid drinking beetroot juice regularly. In most cases, people can safely eat beets or drink beetroot juice without experiencing any negative side effects. Drinking beetroot juice regularly can affect the color of urine and feces due to the natural pigments in beets. People may notice pink or purple urine, which is called beeturia, and pink or purple feces. These color changes are temporary and not a cause for concern. The nitrates in beetroot juice affect blood pressure. Anyone who has low blood pressure or is currently taking blood pressure medication should speak with a healthcare professional before adding beets or beetroot juice to their diet. Beets contain high levels of oxalates, which can cause kidney stones in people with a high risk of this condition. How to make beetroot juice People can make beetroot juice at home using a juicer, blender, or food processor. How to prepare the beets: Trim the tops off the beets before washing them thoroughly. Leave the beetroot skin intact for extra nutrients. Chop the beets into small pieces. How to juice the beets: Set up a juicer with a bowl or pitcher in position to catch discarded material. Feed the beetroot pieces into the juicer one at a time. Pour the beetroot juice into a glass, and immediately drink it or place it in the refrigerator to chill. How to blend the beets: Place the beetroot pieces into the blender, and add a splash of water to help soften up the beetroot. Blend until smooth. Remove large chunks from the juice using a cheesecloth or fine-mesh strainer. Discard the pulp and pour the beetroot juice into a glass. Chill it in the refrigerator or serve it straight away. People can drink beetroot juice on its own, or they can blend it with the juice of other fruits and vegetables. The following healthful ingredients can add a flavorful twist: People can also buy beetroot juice from their local grocery store or choose between brands online. It is important to check the nutrition label on products and avoid juices that contain added sugars and preservatives. Summary Beetroots are a healthful addition to most diets. People can experience the health benefits of beetroots by eating them raw or cooked or by drinking beetroot juice. Juiced beets contain many beneficial nutrients that the cooking process can remove. We picked linked items based on the quality of products, and list the pros and cons of each to help you determine which will work best for you. We partner with some of the companies that sell these products, which means Healthline UK and our partners may receive a portion of revenues if you make a purchase using a link(s) above.
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List of the best full-body exercises

People may describe muscle-strengthening exercises as being upper body, lower body, or core exercises. However, there are also various exercises that work most of a person's muscles at once.

A full-body exercise uses a variety of muscle groups in a person's body, rather than just one. No exercise will work every muscle, but these exercises typically work across the upper body, lower body, and core.

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), exercise should include aerobic activity as well as muscle-strengthening.

Many muscle-strengthening exercises increase a person's heart rate and breathing, but a person should ideally do aerobic activity for 20–30 minutes per day. This is longer than muscle-strengthening exercises usually last.

However, by combining a few exercises that work several muscle groups, including both aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercises, a person can ensure that they are exercising every part of their body.

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Doing full-body exercises Many muscle-strengthening exercises use reps and sets. A rep, which is short for repetition, is the total motion of an individual exercise. A set is a certain number of reps. For example, a rep of a pushup is going from having the arms extended, lowering the chest to the floor, then raising the body back to the original position. A set may comprise 10–20 reps of the pushup, or as many as a person can manage. Each person will be able to do a different number of reps and sets of an exercise in a single workout. As a rule of thumb, a person could do as many reps as they can, rest for a few minutes, then repeat this set. According to the ODPHP, even small amounts of exercise make a difference to overall health. A person should not feel any discouragement if only a few reps of an exercise tire them out. They will be able to do more as they exercise regularly, and even a small amount of exercise is beneficial. Pushups Illustrated guide to pushups
Squats Gif demonstration of squats
Burpees Gif of how to do burpees
Lunges How to do lunges gif
Pushups To do a pushup: Place the palms on the floor under the shoulders, arms extended. Extend the legs back, resting on the balls of the feet, so the body is a straight line. Lower the body, so that the chest or nose is about to touch the floor. Push back up. Repeat this 10 times or as many times as possible before tiring. Take a break, then do this set again. If this is too difficult, begin by resting on the knees instead of stretching the legs out. Over time, work up to the pushup described above. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Squats Starting from a standing position, crouch down into a squatting position, then rise back up. Repeat as many times as possible, take a break, then do the set again. Burpees Burpees combine the benefits of a pushup and a squat, so they are an excellent full-body exercise. To do a burpee: From a standing position, drop down into a squat. Rather than jumping back up, move into a plank position. Do a pushup, then move back to a standing position. Repeat this as many times as possible, take a break, then do the set again. To add intensity, try jumping out of the squat into the standing position. To make it easier, remove the pushup stage. Lunges To do a lunge: Start with one leg at a right angle in front of the body. Extend the other leg back, so that the knee is just above the floor and the ball of the foot is taking the weight. Move up and down, and switch feet so that the legs alternate position. Repeat as many times as possible, rest, then do the set again. Running and cycling Group of friends cycling through park on bikes
Cycling can help strengthen skeletal muscles. Running and cycling are excellent aerobic activities. However, according to an article in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Review, they can also contribute to increasing strength in a person's skeletal muscles. To make them even more effective at building muscle strength, a study paper appearing in the International Journal of Exercise Science suggests incorporating high-intensity interval training into aerobic exercise. This involves running or cycling at a moderate intensity, interspersed with intervals of very high-intensity anaerobic exercises. Stair climbing Stair climbing is a beneficial exercise for both muscle-strengthening and aerobic activity. Climb to the top of a set of stairs, then climb back down. Repeat this for 1 minute, or for as long as possible. Take a break, then repeat. To maximize the amount of energy a person burns, they should climb stairs one step at a time. A study of 14 people in the journal PLoS One found that although the action of climbing two steps expended more energy than taking a single step, climbing a staircase one step at a time burned more calories. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Things to remember Doing exercises or an intense exercise session for the first time can make the muscles ache. A person should make sure to give themselves a rest day to allow their muscles to recover. When doing an exercise for the first time, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggest beginning slowly and gradually increasing the intensity. This will help prevent injuries. Takeaway Many exercises work muscle groups across a person's body. Doing a variety of these, as well as combining them with aerobic exercise, can help ensure that the whole of a person's body stays fit and healthy.
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Poor diet biggest risk factor for early deaths worldwide

A major study has found that unhealthful eating is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other risk factor, including smoking.
woman eating chinese out of a paper
A diet low in nutrients may cause more deaths worldwide than smoking or other unhealthful habits, suggests new research.

The Global Burden of Disease Study looked at dietary consumption between 1990 and 2017 in 195 countries, focusing on 15 types of food or nutrients.

In a paper that features in The Lancet, the study investigators conclude that, due to its contribution to noncommunicable diseases, poor diet accounted for 1 in 5, or 11 million, adult deaths in 2017.

The vast majority of those deaths, around 10 million, were from cardiovascular disease. The rest were mainly from cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Ranking the countries from lowest to highest rates of diet-related deaths puts Israel first, with 89 deaths per 100,000 people, and Uzbekistan last, with 892 per 100,000.

The United States, with 171 deaths per 100,000, comes in at 43rd place and the United Kingdom at 23rd, with 127 deaths per 100,000. India is in 118th place, and China is in 140th.

"This study," says study author Dr. Christopher J. L. Murray, who is director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, "affirms what many have thought for several years — that poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world."

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Little healthful, too much unhealthful food

In their analysis of global diets, the researchers looked at 15 items: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, fiber, calcium, milk, omega-3 fatty acids from seafood, polyunsaturated fats, trans fats, red meat, processed meat, sugary drinks, and sodium.

They found that the global diet in 2017 contained less than the ideal amounts of nearly all healthful food items. The biggest deficiency was in nuts and seeds, milk, and whole grains.

Consumption of nuts and seeds, for instance, was on average only 3 grams (g) per day, or around 12 percent of the optimal intake.

Consumption of milk was only 16 percent of optimal intake and whole grains was only 23 percent.

Alongside these, daily intakes of unhealthful dietary items "exceeded the optimal level globally." Sugary drink consumption, for example, "was far higher than the optimal intake," followed by the consumption of processed meat and sodium. Red meat consumption was just above the optimal level.

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Insufficient healthful food more damaging

An important finding of the study was that insufficient intake of healthful foods could be just as, if not more, damaging than eating too many unhealthful foods.

The authors note that the diets that related to the most deaths were "high in sodium, low in whole grains, low in fruit, low in nuts and seeds, low in vegetables, and low in omega-3 fatty acids."

They found that each of these dietary factors accounted "for more than 2 percent of global deaths."

In addition, just three of these — whole grains, fruits, and sodium — accounted for more than half of the diet-related deaths and two-thirds of the years lost to diet-related ill health and disability.

Dr. Murray says that these results contrast with the fact that, over the last 20 years, policy discussions have tended to focus more on restricting unhealthful foods.

He and his colleagues suggest that campaigns should concentrate on rebalancing diets. They also urge that any changes to food production and distribution aimed to achieve this must consider the environmental impact on the climate, land, water, and soil.

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Need to 'shift the focus'

In a linked editorial, Prof. Nita G. Forouhi and Prof. Nigel Unwin, both of the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., agree with the authors in that "in a global context," and despite its limitations, the study offers "evidence to shift the focus" from restricting unhealthful food items to increasing healthful ones.

They suggest that it confirms a need to emphasize foods rather than nutrients. However, they also highlight some of the challenges of shifting the global diet toward a more healthful one, such as the "prohibitive" costs of fruits and vegetables.

For example, in low-income countries, "Two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables per day per individual accounted for 52 percent of household income," compared with just 2 percent in high-income nations.

"While sodium, sugar, and fat have been the focus of policy debates over the past two decades, our assessment suggests the leading dietary risk factors are high intake of sodium or low intake of healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, and vegetables."

Dr. Christopher J. L. Murray

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Keto diet: A 'cheat day' may undo benefits and damage blood vessels

New research shows that people who follow a keto diet to lose weight or treat diabetes should avoid sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.
two women eating breakfast
New research explores the effects of having a 'cheat' day on the keto diet.

Diets require discipline, and it is not always easy for people to follow them without indulging in a "cheat day." One day may not make a big difference in the long-term, but a recent study from the University of British Columbia in Okanagan, Canada (UBCO), found that when it comes to the keto diet, a single dose of carbohydrates may have dangerous side effects.

The keto diet aims to provide the body with more calories from protein and fat and less from carbohydrates. Ratios depend on the individual's body mass and activity level, but they usually stay in the following ranges: 60–75 percent of calories from fat, 15–30 percent of calories from protein, and 5–10 percent of calories from carbohydrates.

When the body receives less than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day, it will run out of its preferred fuel source — glucose — and this will happen 3 to 4 days after the beginning of the diet. At this point, the body will start to break down protein and fat to get energy. This metabolic process is called ketosis.

Keto diet for weight loss and diabetes

People often use the keto diet to lose weight, but this method can also help to manage certain health conditions, including diabetes. Studies showed that the keto diet might help to control hunger and reduce body weight, and it may lower blood sugar levels in those with diabetes.

"The ketogenic — or keto — diet has become very common for weight loss or to manage diseases such as type 2 diabetes," says Jonathan Little, senior author of the recent study and associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at UBCO.

Little explains that during ketosis, the body's chemistry changes. The process in which the body starts to aggressively burn its fat stores to get energy may lead to significant weight loss and improvement in symptoms of diseases, for example, type 2 diabetes.

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The impact of one dose of glucose

It is common for people to indulge in "cheat days," and so researchers at UCBO wanted to know what happens when people reintroduce a dose of glucose to the body. The study was looking for inflammatory responses or reduced tolerance to blood glucose.

"Since impaired glucose tolerance and spikes in blood sugar levels are known to be associated with an increased risk in cardiovascular disease, it made sense to look at what was happening in the blood vessels after a sugar hit," says Cody Durrer, study first author and doctoral student at UBCO.

Nine healthy young males participated in this study, which appears in the journal Nutrients. The researchers asked them to follow a 7-day high fat, low-carbohydrate diet that was similar to the keto diet, consisting of 70 percent fat, 10 percent carbohydrates, and 20 percent protein. They also had to consume a 75-gram glucose drink before and after the diet.

The inflammatory and blood glucose concerns were not what the researchers discovered, however.

"What we found instead were biomarkers in the blood, suggesting that vessel walls were being damaged by the sudden spike in glucose," Durrer continues.

The results were alarming because even though the participants were all young males, the condition of their blood vessels after consuming the glucose drink was more similar to that of people with poor cardiovascular health.

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Little explains that the damage to blood vessels is due to the body's own metabolic response to spikes in blood sugar levels, which may lead to the death of blood vessel cells.

Researchers cautioned that the study only included nine people, and more work is needed to verify the results. However, it still points to worrying issues, the senior author suggests.

"My concern is that many of the people going on a keto diet — whether it's to lose weight, to treat type 2 diabetes, or some other health reason — may be undoing some of the positive impacts on their blood vessels if they suddenly blast them with glucose," Little concludes.

These findings should give those on a keto diet pause when considering a "cheat day."

The data suggest that the keto diet is not something that people should do for 6 days a week and take a day off. This consideration is especially important for people who are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

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'Even moderate alcohol consumption increases stroke risk'

Some research has suggested that drinking alcohol in moderation could have protective effects against stroke. However, a large cohort study in a Chinese population shows that this is not the case at all.
clear glass with an alcoholic drink
A large new cohort study emphasizes that any alcohol intake can increase the risk of stroke.

We know that alcohol consumption can impact our health in many ways, but some researchers have debated whether the amount and the frequency of consumption could have a bearing on whether drinking is better or worse for health.

Certain studies — such as one published in 2016 in the journal BMC Medicine — have even suggested that moderate alcohol consumption can have a protective effect against stroke.

However, other researchers have called such findings into question and decided to conduct their own investigation into this matter.

A new collaborative study — led by teams from Oxford University, in the United Kingdom, and Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Peking Union Medical College, in Beijing, China — now shows that moderate drinking not only does not protect against cardiovascular events, it actually increases the risk of stroke.

These findings, which appear in the journal The Lancet, are based on the analysis of data collected from over 500,000 people in China.

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Why the focus on East Asian populations?

The researchers chose to focus on a Chinese population because numerous people of East Asian descent experience something called the "Asian flushing syndrome" — when they consume alcohol, their faces turn red (flushed) and assume a glow.

This, the authors explain in their paper, is because when people with this syndrome drink alcohol, their systems are unable to properly break down some of the components, due to certain genetic variants that are specific to these populations.

"The major clearance pathway for blood alcohol is that an alcohol dehydrogenase [...] oxidizes it to acetaldehyde, which causes discomfort at sufficient concentrations," the researchers write.

"An aldehyde dehydrogenase [...] then detoxifies the acetaldehyde, oxidizing it to acetate, which does not cause discomfort," they continue, explaining that "Fast clearance of alcohol or, particularly, slow breakdown of acetaldehyde can cause individuals to limit alcohol intake."

While in people of European and African descent, the body breaks down acetaldehyde "quickly enough to maintain tolerably low concentrations in drinkers," the authors explain, in populations from East Asia, this does not happen because of the presence of a certain variant of the ALDH2 gene called rs671.

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A variant of the ADH1B gene, rs1229984, which is just as common among people of East Asian descent, actually increases blood alcohol clearance rates, thus increasing tolerance to alcohol.

Moreover, according to the study's researchers, both of these genetic variants are associated with less alcohol consumption.

In the study, the researchers assessed information provided by 512,715 adults from China who enrolled in the China Kadoorie Biobank initiative, and their first step was to look at whether these participants had the rs671 or rs1229984 genetic variants.

As part of the China Kadoorie Biobank project, the participants also provided information regarding their drinking habits and agreed to provide health data over a follow-up period of 10 years.

Using all these data, the investigators who led the current study sought to find out what the relationship actually was between moderate alcohol intake and the risk of stroke.

"Using genetics is a novel way to assess the health effects of alcohol and to sort out whether moderate drinking really is protective or whether it's slightly harmful," says senior epidemiologist and lecturer Iona Millwood, who co-led the study. "Our genetic analyses have helped us understand the cause and effect relationships," she observes.

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Moderation does not protect against stroke

"In our population, men drink more than 20 times as much as women, so these two [genetic] variants have large absolute effects on alcohol intake only among men," the researchers write in their paper.

Among women, fewer than 2 percent reported having any alcohol in a given week, and when they did drink, they reported a considerably lower intake than men. Thus, the scientists looked at women as a viable control group in this study.

When looking at the male population, they found that those with the two genetic variants — which were tied to lower alcohol intake — also had a lower risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

After performing comparisons, the researchers concluded that alcohol intake — even in moderation — can increase the risk of ischemic stroke by as much as 35 percent for every four extra alcoholic drinks per day (or 280 grams of alcohol per week). "There are no protective effects of moderate alcohol intake against stroke," emphasizes co-senior author Prof. Zhengming Chen.

"Even moderate alcohol consumption increases the chances of having a stroke."

Prof. Zhengming Chen

At the same time, he notes, "The findings for heart attack were less clear-cut, so we plan to collect more evidence."

Although the researchers acknowledge that they could not reproduce this study with a cohort of European descent, since these populations do not typically have the two genetic variants, they nevertheless argue that the current findings are relevant to all populations.

"Stroke is a major cause of death and disability," notes Prof. Liming Li, a co-senior author, who adds: "This large, collaborative study has shown that stroke rates are increased by alcohol. This should help inform personal choices and public health strategies."

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How to begin intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is a timed approach to eating. Unlike a dietary plan that restricts where calories come from, intermittent fasting does not specify what foods a person should eat or avoid. Intermittent fasting may have some health benefits, including weight loss but is not suitable for everyone.

Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. At first, people may find it difficult to eat during a short window of time each day or alternate between days of eating and not eating. This article offers tips on the best way to begin fasting, including identifying personal goals, planning meals, and establishing caloric needs.

Intermittent fasting is a popular method that people use to:

simplify their life lose weight improve their overall health and well-being, such as minimizing the effects of aging

Though fasting is safe for most healthy, well-nourished people, it may not be appropriate for individuals who have any medical conditions. For those ready to start fasting, the following tips aim to help them make the experience as easy and successful as possible.

1. Identify personal goals Typically, a person who starts intermittent fasting has a goal in mind. It may be to lose weight, improve overall health, or improve metabolic health. A person's ultimate goal will help them determine the most suitable fasting method and work out how many calories and nutrients they need to consume. 2. Pick the method Intermittent fasting for weight loss
Typically, a person should stick with one fasting method for a month or longer before trying another.

There are four potential methods that a person may try when fasting for health reasons. A person should pick the plan that suits their preferences and which they think they can stick with.

These include:

Eat Stop Eat Warrior Diet Leangains Alternate Day Fasting

Typically, a person should stick with one fasting method for a month or longer to see if it works for them before trying a different method. Anyone who has a medical condition should talk to their healthcare provider before beginning any fasting method.

When deciding on a method, a person should remember that they do not need to eat a certain amount or type of food or avoid foods altogether. A person can eat what they want. However, to reach health and weight loss goals, it is a good idea to follow a healthful, high fiber, vegetable-rich diet during the eating periods.

Binging on unhealthful foods on eating days can hinder health progress. It is also extremely important to drink lots of water or other no-calorie beverages throughout the fast days.

Eat Stop Eat

Brad Pilon developed Eat Stop Eat, which is a fasting method that involves eating nothing for 24 hours twice a week. It does not matter what days a person fasts or even when they begin. The only restriction is fasting must last for 24 hours and on non-consecutive days.

People who do not eat for 24 hours will likely become very hungry. Eat Stop Eat may not be the best method for people who are unfamiliar with fasting to start with.

Warrior Diet

Ori Hofmekler is the creator of the Warrior Diet, which entails eating very litlte for 20 hours each day. A person fasting in this way consumes all their typical food intake in the remaining 4 hours. Eating a whole day's worth of food in such a short time can make a person's stomach quite uncomfortable. This is the most extreme fasting method, and similarly to Eat Stop Eat, a person new to fasting may not want to start with this method.


Martin Berkhan created Leangains for weightlifters, but it has gained popularity among other people who are interested in fasting. Unlike Eat Stop Eat and the Warrior Diet, fasting for Leangains involves much shorter periods.

For example, males who choose the Leangains method will fast for 16 hours and then eat what they want for the remaining 8 hours of the day. Females fast for 14 hours and eat what they want for the remaining 10 hours of the day.

During the fast, a person must avoid eating any food but can drink as many no-calorie beverages as they like.

Alternate Day Fasting, 5:2 method

Some people fast on alternate days to improve blood sugar, cholesterol, and weight loss. A person on the 5:2 method eats 500 to 600 calories on two non-consecutive days each week. Some alternate-day fasting regimens add in a third day of fasting each week. For the rest of the week, a person eats only the number of calories they burn during the day. Over time, this creates a calorie deficit that allows the person to lose weight.

Resources on the Eat Stop Eat, Warrior, and Leangains fasting methods are available to purchase online.

Thank you for supporting Medical News Today 3. Figure out caloric needs There are no dietary restrictions when fasting, but this does not mean calories do not count. People who are looking to lose weight need to create a calorie deficit for themselves — this means that they consume less energy than they use. People who are looking to gain weight need to consume more calories than they use. There are many tools available to help a person work out their caloric needs and determine how many calories they need to consume each day to either gain or lose weight. A person could also speak to their healthcare provider or dietitian for guidance on how many calories they need. 4. Figure out a meal plan Intermittent fasting for weight loss meal prepare
Making a meal plan for the week may help someone who is trying to lose or gain weight. A person interested in losing or gaining weight may find it helps to plan what they are going to eat during the day or week. Meal planning does not need to be overly restrictive. It consider calorie intake and incorporate proper nutrients into the diet. Meal planning offers many benefits, such as helping a person stick to their calorie count, and ensuring they have the necessary food on hand for cooking recipes, quick meals, and snacks. 5. Make the calories count Not all calories are the same. Although these fasting methods do not set restrictions on how many calories a person should consume when fasting, it is essential to consider the nutritional value of the food. In general, a person should aim to consume nutrient-dense food, or food with a high number of nutrients per calorie. Though a person may not have to abandon junk food entirely, they should still practice moderation and focus on healthier options to gain the most benefits. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today How effective is intermittent fasting Fasting has several effects on a person's body. These effects include: Reducing levels of insulin, which makes it easier for the body to use stored fat. Lowering blood sugars, blood pressure, and inflammation levels. Changes gene expressions, which helps the body protect itself from disease as well as promoting longevity. Dramatically increases human growth hormone, or HGH, which helps the body utilize body fat and grow muscle. The body activates a healing process doctors call autophagy, which essentially means that the body eats up its own damaged cells. Fasting dates back to ancient humans who often went hours or days between meals as obtaining food was difficult. The human body adapted to this style of eating, allowing extended periods to pass between food intake. Intermittent fasting recreates this forced-fasting. When a person undertakes an intermittent fast for dietary proposes, it can be very effective for weight loss. In fact, according to one study, most people try intermittent fasting to help lose weight. Other research backs up the claims that fasting can help a person lose weight. For example, a review of studies shows that many people who fast see a higher loss of visceral body fat and a similar to slightly less reduction in body weight compared to people who follow more traditional calorie reduction diets. Research also shows fasting to be beneficial for the management of metabolic syndrome and diabetes, extending lifespan, protecting neuron function, and shows promise in those with digestive diseases. Side effects Intermittent fasting for weight loss not advised for pregnancy
Pregnant women may be at risk from fasting and should consult a doctor before trying any program. For a healthy, well-nourished person, intermittent fasting offers very few side effects. When a person first starts fasting, they may feel slightly physically and mentally sluggish as their body adjusts. After the adjustment, most people go back to functioning normally. However, people with medical conditions should consult their doctor before beginning any fasting program. People particularly at risk from fasting and who may require medical supervision include: women who are breastfeeding women who are pregnant people who are trying to conceive people with diabetes people who have difficulty regulating sugar people with low blood pressure people on medications people with eating disorders people who are underweight Effects on exercise For healthy individuals, intermittent fasting should not affect their ability to exercise except during the period when the body is adjusting to the new eating schedule. After the adjustment period, a person should not feel any ill effects from fasting on their exercise routine. Those worried about losing muscle while fasting should be sure to consume enough protein during eating periods and participate in resistance training regularly. By keeping protein intake up, a person is less likely to lose muscle mass from fasting. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Summary Fasting is a natural part of the human life cycle. Most people have fasted unknowingly throughout their lifetimes by eating an early dinner and skipping breakfast the next day. More structured approaches may work well for some people. However, it is important to keep in mind that although a person does not need to exclude certain foods from their diet, they should still aim to eat a balanced diet rich in protein, fiber, and vegetables. Remember to drink plenty of fluids, too. Finally, though the average person will likely experience no or minimal side effects, people with certain medical conditions or who are taking certain medications should speak to their doctor before trying a fasting plan. We picked linked items based on the quality of products, and list the pros and cons of each to help you determine which will work best for you. We partner with some of the companies that sell these products, which means Healthline UK and our partners may receive a portion of revenues if you make a purchase using a link(s) above.
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Health benefits of olive leaf extract

Olive leaf extract may have several potential health benefits, such as helping lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Although scientists have conducted much of the research in animals, the extract is also beginning to show promise in some human trials.

People in the Mediterranean region have long used olive tree leaves as part of their diet and in traditional medicines.

Olive leaves contain several key polyphenols, such as oleacein and oleuropein. Polyphenols occur naturally in plants, and research suggests that they may help protect against a range of conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.

These polyphenols may underlie some of the potential health benefits of olive leaf extract.

In this article, we discuss some of these health benefits, as well as the evidence to support them. We also cover dosage and possible side effects.

Weight gain Olive leaf extract supplements on wooden table next to dried olive branch and pestle and mortar.
Olive leaf extract is available as a supplement.

Olive tree leaves contain oleuropein, which is a polyphenol that may help prevent weight gain.

In a 2016 study, researchers orally administered oleuropein to rats with obesity that were

consuming a high-cholesterol diet. After 8 weeks, the rats had a lower body weight, less fat tissue, and an improved metabolic profile.

Another study from 2014 found that oleuropein supplementation reduced body weight and weight gain in mice that were consuming a high-fat diet.

These findings suggest that olive leaf extract containing oleuropein may have the potential to reduce weight gain and lower the risk of obesity.

However, further studies are necessary to confirm this possible health benefit in humans.

Cholesterol Preliminary studies suggest that olive leaf extract may help improve cholesterol levels. In a 2015 study, rats ate either a high-cholesterol or a normal diet. The researchers also gave olive leaf extract to some of the rats in both groups. After 8 weeks, the cholesterol-fed rats had higher levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol. In the rats that also consumed the olive leaf extract, these cholesterol levels were significantly lower. These findings may also apply to humans. A 2008 study compared the effects of food supplementation with olive leaf extract with lifestyle advice in 40 identical twins with high blood pressure. After 8 weeks, the team found that olive leaf extract significantly lowered LDL cholesterol levels within the twin pairs in a dose-dependent manner. This means that larger doses had a greater effect. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Blood pressure Studies suggest that olive leaf extract can help lower high blood pressure.
Studies suggest that olive leaf extract may help lower high blood pressure. Olive leaf extract may help treat hypertension, or high blood pressure. In a 2011 study, researchers randomized people with stage 1 hypertension to take either 500 milligrams (mg) of olive leaf extract or 12.5–25 mg of captopril, a medication for high blood pressure, twice per day. After 8 weeks, blood pressure was significantly lower for both groups. The team concluded that the olive leaf extract was as effective at lowering blood pressure in people with stage 1 hypertension as captopril. In another study from 2017, researchers randomized people with stage 1 hypertension to take either an olive leaf extract containing 136 mg of oleuropein or a placebo each day. After 6 weeks, the people who took the olive leaf extract had much lower blood pressure than those who took the placebo. Type 2 diabetes Olive leaf extract may also help reduce a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In a 2013 study, researchers randomized 46 middle-aged men who were overweight to take either olive leaf extract or a placebo. After 12 weeks, people in the olive leaf extract group had significant improvements in insulin sensitivity and pancreatic responsiveness compared with those who took a placebo. Doctors consider reduced insulin sensitivity and pancreatic responsiveness to be important factors in the development of type 2 diabetes. Dosage There are no official guidelines on how much olive leaf extract a person should take. In the human studies discussed above, participants usually took 500–1,000 mg per day of a standard olive leaf extract. Some of these were in divided doses. Olive leaf extract is available in the form of capsules, tablets, and a tea. When using these products, it is generally best to follow the manufacturer's directions on safe dosages. A person should to speak to a doctor before taking olive leaf extract to treat a specific condition. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Side effects A person can speak to their doctor about taking olive leaf extract.
A person can speak to their doctor about taking olive leaf extract. Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider olive leaf extract to be a dietary supplement rather than a medicine, they do not monitor dose or quality of herbs and supplements. There is also only limited scientific data on the possible side effects or long-term safety. One study suggests that possible side effects may include muscle discomfort and headache. People who experience severe or concerning side effects should stop taking the extract and speak to their doctor. It is also not clear whether olive leaf extract can interact with other medications. People who are taking prescription medications should speak to a doctor before taking olive leaf extract. Summary Preliminary studies suggest that olive leaf extract may have several health benefits. These include lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, and reducing the risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. However, it is necessary for scientists to conduct more large-scale studies in humans to confirm these findings and to determine the long-term safety of taking olive leaf extract. A range of products containing olive leaf extract are available to purchase online. We picked linked items based on the quality of products, and list the pros and cons of each to help you determine which will work best for you. We partner with some of the companies that sell these products, which means Healthline UK and our partners may receive a portion of revenues if you make a purchase using a link(s) above.
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How does oxidative stress affect the body?

Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage. Oxidative stress occurs naturally and plays a role in the aging process.

A large body of scientific evidence suggests that long-term oxidative stress contributes to the development in a range of chronic conditions. Such conditions include cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

In this article, we explore what oxidative stress is, how it affects the body, and how to reduce it.

What is oxidative stress? Man walking across the road to sidewalk on busy city street with takeaway coffee in hand experiencing oxidative stress
Many lifestyle factors can contribute to oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress can occur when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body.

The body's cells produce free radicals during normal metabolic processes. However, cells also produce antioxidants that neutralize these free radicals. In general, the body is able to maintain a balance between antioxidants and free radicals.

Several factors contribute to oxidative stress and excess free radical production. These factors can include:

diet lifestyle certain conditions environmental factors such as pollution and radiation

The body's natural immune response can also trigger oxidative stress temporarily. This type of oxidative stress causes mild inflammation that goes away after the immune system fights off an infection or repairs an injury.

Uncontrolled oxidative stress can accelerate the aging process and may contribute to the development of a number of conditions.

What are free radicals? Free radicals, including reactive oxygen species, are molecules with one or more unpaired electron. Examples of free radicals include: superoxide hydroxyl radical nitric oxide radical Cells contain small structures called mitochondria, which work to generate energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Mitochondria combine oxygen and glucose to produce carbon dioxide, water, and ATP. Free radicals arise as byproducts of this metabolic process. External substances, such as cigarette smoke, pesticides, and ozone, can also cause the formation of free radicals in the body. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today What are antioxidants? Bowl of fresh fruit and berries, including raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries.
Fresh berries and other fruits contain antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize or remove free radicals by donating an electron. The neutralizing effect of antioxidants helps protect the body from oxidative stress. Examples of antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E. Like free radicals, antioxidants come from several different sources. Cells naturally produce antioxidants such as glutathione. A person's diet is also an important source of antioxidants. Foods such as fruits and vegetables provide many essential antioxidants in the form of vitamins and minerals that the body cannot create on its own. Effects of oxidative stress The effects of oxidative stress vary and are not always harmful. For example, oxidative stress that results from physical activity may have beneficial, regulatory effects on the body. Exercise increases free radical formation, which can cause temporary oxidative stress in the muscles. However, the free radicals formed during physical activity regulate tissue growth and stimulate the production of antioxidants. Mild oxidative stress may also protect the body from infection and diseases. In a 2015 study, scientists found that oxidative stress limited the spread of melanoma cancer cells in mice. However, long-term oxidative stress damages the body's cells, proteins, and DNA. This can contribute to aging and may play an important role in the development of a range of conditions. We discuss some of these conditions below: Chronic inflammation Oxidative stress can cause chronic inflammation. Infections and injuries trigger the body's immune response. Immune cells called macrophages produce free radicals while fighting off invading germs. These free radicals can damage healthy cells, leading to inflammation. Under normal circumstances, inflammation goes away after the immune system eliminates the infection or repairs the damaged tissue. However, oxidative stress can also trigger the inflammatory response, which, in turn, produces more free radicals that can lead to further oxidative stress, creating a cycle. Chronic inflammation due to oxidative stress may lead to several conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis. Neurodegenerative diseases The effects of oxidative stress may contribute to several neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress because brain cells require a substantial amount of oxygen. According to a 2018 review, the brain consumes 20 percent of the total amount of oxygen the body needs to fuel itself. Brain cells use oxygen to perform intense metabolic activities that generate free radicals. These free radicals help support brain cell growth, neuroplasticity, and cognitive functioning. During oxidative stress, excess free radicals can damage structures inside brain cells and even cause cell death, which may increase the risk of Parkinson's disease. Oxidative stress also alters essential proteins, such as amyloid-beta peptides. According to one 2018 systematic review, oxidative stress may modify these peptides in way that contributes to the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain. This is a key marker of Alzheimer's disease. Conditions linked to oxidative stress Oxidative stress may play a role in the development of a range of conditions, including: Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Risk factors for oxidative stress Pollution can increase the risk of long-term oxidative stress.
Pollution can increase the risk of long-term oxidative stress. Factors that may increase a person's risk of long-term oxidative stress include: obesity diets high in fat, sugar, and processed foods exposure to radiation smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products alcohol consumption certain medications pollution exposure to pesticides or industrial chemicals Prevention It is important to remember that the body requires both free radicals and antioxidants. Having too many or too few of either may lead to health problems. Lifestyle and dietary measures that may help reduce oxidative stress in the body include: eating a balanced, healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables limiting intake of processed foods, particularly those high in sugars and fats exercising regularly quitting smoking reducing stress avoiding or reducing exposure to pollution and harsh chemicals Maintaining a healthy body weight may help reduce oxidative stress. According to a 2015 systematic review, excess fat cells produce inflammatory substances that trigger increased inflammatory activity and free radical production in immune cells. Summary Oxidative stress is a state that occurs when there is an excess of free radicals in the body's cells. The body produces free radicals during normal metabolic processes. Oxidative stress can damage cells, proteins, and DNA, which can contribute to aging. It may also play a role in development of a range of health conditions, including diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. The body naturally produces antioxidants to counteract these free radicals. A person's diet is also an important source of antioxidants. Making certain lifestyle and dietary changes may help reduce oxidative stress. These may include maintaining a healthy body weight, regularly exercising, and eating a balanced, healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
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What happens when you eat fast food?

The term "fast food" generally refers to food that people intend to consume quickly, either on- or off-site. There is plenty of well-researched evidence demonstrating the various negative health effects of eating and overeating fast food, in both the short- and long-term.

Many fast food establishments now list the number of calories each of their items contains. However, this is only part of the consideration of whether it is healthful or not.

Fast food is typically very poor in terms of nutrition. According to a study paper in the journal Health Promotion Perspectives, fast food tends to contain various substances that are generally unhealthful. It is high in sugar, salt, and saturated or trans fats, as well as many processed preservatives and ingredients. It is also low in beneficial nutrients.

Not all fast food is bad, and a person can make an informed choice by doing research to find out the nutritional content of particular fast food items. These are available on the websites of most major restaurants.

However, even the more healthful fast food items are generally high in sugar, salt, saturated fats and trans fats. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion note that the typical person in the United States consumes too much of these.

Short-term impact Person eating fast food burger and chips at their desk over their laptop and smartphone
Eating fast food on a regular basis can have a range of health consequences.

Because fast food is typically high in sugar, salt, and saturated or trans fats, looking at the short-term effects of these nutrients can help determine what happens in the short-term when a person eats fast food.

The results of a small study in the journal Nutrition Research and Practice suggest that eating foods with more sugar as the first meal of the day could make a person feel hungrier at their next meal than if they ate a low-sugar meal.

Doctors, dietitians, and other health experts believe that this is because sugary foods are worse at providing satiety, or a sense of fullness.

Also, high-carbohydrate foods increase the body's demand for insulin, which also promotes more hunger within a shorter amount of time after the meal.

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Experts believe that the more hungry a person is before their next meal, the more likely they are to eat more calories than necessary.

A small study in the Journal of Hypertension found that consuming high levels of salt could have an immediate impact on the proper functioning of a person's blood vessels. Excess sodium intake also has links to fluid retention.

Fast food is also often very low in fresh fruit and vegetables, which makes it hard for people to reach their recommended daily intake of at least 5 servings. It may also be hard for them to reach their ideal fiber intake, which is at least 25 grams per day.

Fast food is highly palatable, meaning that it is very quickly broken down in the mouth, does not require much chewing, and activates the reward centers in the brain rapidly.

This combination trains the palate to prefer these highly processed, highly stimulating foods. This reduces someone's desire for whole, fresh foods.

Research from 2018 and other previous studies have suggested a link between fast food consumption and the incidence of food addiction for these low-nutrient items.

Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Long-term impact Researchers have linked long-term fast food consumption with a higher risk of developing asthma.
Studies suggest that long-term fast food consumption may increase the risk of developing asthma. There is plenty of well-researched evidence showing that regularly eating fast food can harm a person's health. This is because most fast food is high in sugar, salt, saturated fat and trans fats, processed ingredients, and calories, and low in antioxidants, fiber, and many other nutrients. Many fast food meals are very low in fiber. A low-fiber diet is associated with a higher risk of digestive conditions such as constipation and diverticular disease, as well as reductions in healthy gut bacteria. A study in the journal Health Promotion Perspectives identifies the sometimes irreparable effects of eating fast food on a person's health. Such risks include obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and various cardiovascular conditions. A study in the Nutrition Journal focuses on the effects of a Western diet on a person's immune system. This is a diet that consists of high amounts of sugar, salt, and saturated fat from only a few sources. The study paper claims that a Western diet can lead to higher inflammation, lower control of infection, higher cancer rates, and higher risk of allergic and autoinflammatory disease. A study in the journal Thorax establishes a link between fast food consumption in teenagers and children and an increase in asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema. A study in the journal Appetite also suggests that there is a causal link between a diet high in saturated fat and simple carbohydrates, typical of much fast food, and a lower capacity for memory and learning. This sort of diet may also raise the risk of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggest that a diet high in salt often increases a person's blood pressure, which means that a person is more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, or heart disease. The FDA also note that a diet high in trans fats raises the amount of low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol and the lowers the amount of high-density lipoprotein, or "good," cholesterol. This means that a person is more likely to develop heart disease. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today The Obesity Action Coalition point out that typical fast food contains a very high number of calories. If a person eats more calories than they are burning during each day, they will put on weight, which may lead to obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity increases a person's risk of developing a range of serious health conditions. Another consequence of younger people regularly eating fast food is their uninentional lack of understanding of basic meal preparation, cooking, and healthful eating. Over time, this perpetuates a dependence on fast food, and people may not learn how to prepare healthful, balanced food in the home. Consuming such meals can support a person's long-term health throughout their lifespan. Summary Fast food tends to be high in salt, sugar, saturated fats, trans fats, calories, and processed preservatives and ingredients. A lot of well-conducted research has proven the negative health effects of consuming too much of these. Not all fast food is bad, however. Some menu items might be lower in these substances than others, while some fast food outlets might focus on providing more healthful options. However, this is not the case for the majority of fast food outlets, or the majority of food items they sell. To preserve health, a person should try to identify fast food items that contain less salt, fat, sugar, and total carbohydrates and generally try to restrict the amount of fast food they consume.
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What are the most healthful oils?

Healthful oils are an important part of every diet. There are many types of oil to choose from, so which are the best ones for cooking, nutrition, and health benefits?

Dietary fats play an essential role in the body. The fats in food help the body to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. They are also essential for brain and nerve function.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adding healthful oils to the diet to help support a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of heart disease.

There are many different oils to choose from, such as olive, coconut, canola, and vegetable oils. Each of these oils has different characteristics.

In this article, we look at the properties of olive oil, coconut oil, canola oil, and vegetable oil for nutrition and cooking, plus any adverse effects, and their overall health benefits.

Nutritional values Cooking oil being poured into a bowl
Oils do not contain protein or carbohydrates.

The following table from the United States Department of Agriculture compares the nutritional value of 1 tablespoon (tbsp) or 15 milliliters (ml) of olive oil vs. coconut oil vs. canola oil vs. vegetable oil in grams (g).

Oils do not contain protein or carbohydrates and are not a significant source of vitamins and minerals. None of these oils contain trans fat, a type that is harmful to human health.

Oils are very high in calories and a good source of energy.

Olive, coconut, canola, and vegetable oils each provide the same number of calories per tablespoon.

Extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp Organic virgin coconut oil, 1 tbsp 100% pure canola oil, 1 tbsp 100% pure vegetable oil, 1 tbsp
Calories 120 120 120 120
Total fat 14 g 14 g 14 g 14 g
Saturated fatty acids 2 g 13 g 1 g 2 g
Monounsaturated fatty acids 10 g 1 g 8 g 3 g
Polyunsaturated fatty acids 1.5 g 0 g 4 g 8 g

The most significant difference between each of these four oils is their fat profile:

Extra virgin olive oil is highest in monounsaturated fats. Organic virgin coconut oil contains the highest levels of saturated fats. Pure vegetable oil has the most polyunsaturated fatty acids per tablespoon.

An American Heart Association (AHA) report states that unsaturated fats, which include monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can reduce the risk of heart disease when people chose to eat them instead of saturated and trans fats.

Research has associated saturated fats with higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol, which doctors also call bad cholesterol, is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

There is some debate among researchers about whether or not people can consider coconut oil a healthful addition to the diet.

Coconut oil coconut oil which can help with eczema
Some sources claim that coconut oil is a healthful fat that benefits heart health. Many people believe that coconut oil is a healthful fat that benefits heart health. These health claims have stimulated debate in the scientific community because of the very high levels of saturated fatty acids that coconut oil contains. Some commercial websites say that coconut oil behaves differently than other oils that contain high levels of saturated fats. They claim that coconut oil has similar properties as medium-chain triglycerides. These medium-chain fatty acids are healthful because the body digests and absorbs them more quickly than long-chain fatty acids. This makes them a better energy source than long-chain triglycerides. However, coconut oil contains mostly lauric acid, which acts like a long-chain triglyceride and does not have the same healthful benefits as medium-chain triglycerides. Evidence suggests that replacing coconut oil with oils that contain a higher level of unsaturated fats may reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In two studies on the effects of coconut oil vs. vegetable oil, researchers observed that coconut oil increased the levels of LDL cholesterol in comparison with safflower oil and olive oil. Another 2018 study suggests that coconut oil raises HDL cholesterol, which doctors call good cholesterol, compared with butter and olive oil. However, in light of the overall research to date, the AHA advise against people consuming saturated fats, such as coconut oil. Further research is needed to know the true effects of coconut oil on health. Learn more about the potential benefits and controversies around coconut oil here. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Olive oil Olive oil has a more favorable fatty acid profile. Olive oil has a very high level of monounsaturated fats. Olive oil mainly contains oleic acid, with smaller amounts of linoleic acid and palmitic acid. In a clinical trial known as PREDIMED, researchers observed lower rates of cardiovascular problems, which include heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease, in people following the Mediterranean diet with either extra virgin olive oil or nuts, as opposed to a control diet. As long as olive oil is not heated, the antioxidant properties in the oil are higher than those of vitamin E. The antioxidant effects may provide protection from oxidative stress in a person's body. Reducing this type of biological stress can slow down or prevent tumor cells from growing or developing. Cooking with olive oil Olive oil remains stable even when people heat it to high temperatures because of these antioxidants. Also, when heated to a high temperature for a long time, extra virgin olive oil releases a lower amount of unhealthful compounds compared with canola and vegetable oils. This is because the high levels of monounsaturated fats are more stable in high heat. Canola oil Canola oil also has low levels of saturated fatty acids and high levels of unsaturated fats. A group of researchers from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutritional Sciences in Manitoba, Canada, reviewed the evidence for the health benefits of canola oil. Their results demonstrate that people who follow diets they based on canola oil had lower total cholesterol levels compared with those consuming a typical Western diet high in saturated fatty acids. The researchers suggest that the canola oil could reduce LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 17 percent when they compared it with that of the typical Western diet. Cooking with canola oil When people expose canola oil to high heat for long periods, a chemical reaction occurs that releases potentially unhealthful compounds. To safely use canola oil, people can use it to quickly sauté vegetables, meat, or meat alternatives, making sure that the oil does not get too hot. Vegetable oil oil being poured into cooking
At high temperatures, vegetable oil is not stable. Manufacturers make vegetable oil from oilseeds, legumes, nuts, or the flesh of some fruits. Vegetable oil contains the highest levels of polyunsaturated fats compared with olive, coconut, and canola oil. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contain trans fats. Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids with a different chemical structure. Clinical trials consistently report on the adverse effects of trans fats on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are in a variety of processed foods such as margarine, baked goods, and deep-fried foods. Because of the dangers health experts associate with eating trans fats, manufacturers must include the trans fats content on food labels. Vegetable oil in cooking Similarly to canola oil, vegetable oils are not stable when people use them at high temperatures. Vegetable oils have low levels of antioxidants and can release potentially harmful compounds when heated. Researchers have linked these compounds with various forms of cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Using oils in cooking Since the properties of each oil are different, each oil has its unique uses in cooking. People can use olive, coconut, canola, and vegetable oil when sautéing. Coconut oil works well in baked goods. People can use vegetable oil for frying and making mayonnaise, salad dressings, and sauces. Extra virgin olive oil has the most versatile flavor compared with other oils. It can be grassy, peppery, or fruity, depending on the olives. People can use extra virgin olive oil in vinaigrettes and as a finishing drizzle over a final dish. Other uses of oil Olive oil has a long history of use in hair and skin products. The anti-inflammatory effects of olive oil may help in wound healing. The high levels of linoleic acid in vegetable oil make it a suitable ingredient in skin products. Linoleic acid can improve skin hydration and reinforce the skin barrier. Researchers have observed that coconut oil may help control symptoms of skin rashes in children. Coconut oil may also help speed up wound healing and help the skin repair itself. Summary A healthful, high-quality diet requires dietary fats. Oils provide beneficial fatty acids. The different oils we discuss in this article have different fatty acid profiles. Choosing oils with a higher level of unsaturated fatty acids may provide the best health benefits. People should be aware of the different cooking methods that may change the healthful properties of oils. People also use different oils on their skin because this helps to hydrate and repair the skin barrier. People can find these oils in supermarkets or choose between brands online: We picked linked items based on the quality of products, and list the pros and cons of each to help you determine which will work best for you. We partner with some of the companies that sell these products, which means Healthline UK and our partners may receive a portion of revenues if you make a purchase using a link(s) above.
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Atherosclerosis: Scans spot inflammation in arteries before they harden

By the time plaques have formed in arteries, the process of atherosclerosis, a condition that can lead to heart attacks and strokes, is already well underway. Now, by using advanced imaging technology to spot artery inflammation, scientists have for the first time found a way to track the condition before the plaques develop.
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Scientists are using advanced PET/MRI to predict atherosclerosis.

The finding, which appears in a recent Journal of the American College of Cardiology paper, should lead to better, earlier diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis, say the study's researchers, who work at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC) in Spain.

Although scientists now understand atherosclerosis to be a persistent, inflammatory disease, it is not clear how much inflammation exists, and how it develops, in the early stages of the condition.

The recent study addresses this shortfall by using an advanced form of positron emission tomography/magnetic resonance imaging (PET/MRI) to detect the beginnings of artery inflammation in people who already had some atherosclerotic plaques in some of their arteries.

The study is part of the Progression of Early Subclinical Atherosclerosis (PESA) trial that is evaluating the pre-symptom stages of atherosclerosis in more than 4,000 middle-aged employees of the Banco de Santander Group in Madrid, Spain.

Study author Dr. Valentín Fuster, director of the CNIC, is the lead investigator of the PESA trial, which is the first to use PET/MRI techniques on such a large cohort of people.

He explains that it was not very long ago that all the knowledge of how atherosclerosis developed came only from autopsies.

"Today for the first time," he adds, "we present, with very advanced imaging technology, how atherosclerotic disease develops in people."

He remarks that while the individuals may appear to be healthy, "we can already see how different aspects of the atherosclerotic process are evolving."

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Arteries and atherosclerosis

Arteries are the vessels that carry nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the heart and the rest of the body.

Atherosclerosis happens when fat, calcium, cholesterol, and other materials deposit inside artery walls to form plaques. The plaques can build up inside any artery, including those that carry blood to the heart, brain, limbs, kidneys, and pelvic area.

As time goes on, the plaques harden. Hardening plaques stiffen and narrow the arteries, reducing blood flow and the supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells and tissues.

This process can lead to potentially fatal cardiovascular consequences, such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

According to figures that the American Heart Association help to compile, heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions were the "underlying cause" of 840,678 deaths in the United States in 2016, accounting for around 1 in 3 deaths in the U.S. that year.

"We are talking about the number one killer today in the world," says Dr. Fuster.

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Potential predictor of atherosclerotic plaques

Dr. Fuster and his colleagues demonstrated that inflammation of the arteries "is highly prevalent in middle-aged individuals with known subclinical atherosclerosis." This was particularly apparent in artery regions that had not yet developed plaques.

They suggest that "an arterial inflammatory state" could be a predictor for the later development of plaques and atherosclerotic disease.

The investigation involved analyzing advanced PET/MRI imaging results for 755 participants in the PESA trial. Their average age was 49 years, and they had all undergone exams that had revealed the presence of calcium buildup or plaques in some arteries.

First study author Leticia Fernández-Friera, who is a cardiologist at CNIC and the University Hospital HM Monteprincipe Madrid, says that they examined three main types of artery — "the carotid arteries, which supply blood to the head; the aorta, the body's largest artery; and the iliofemoral arteries, which supply blood to the legs."

Using the advanced imaging technology, the team found inflammation was evident in only around 10 percent of plaques that had already formed.

Most of the inflammation was in artery regions with no atherosclerotic plaques at all. More than half of individuals had this type of plaque-free inflammation, with most of it occurring in femoral arteries.

Where plaques did show signs of inflammation, they tended to be larger, contained more cholesterol, and were more likely to be in the branches of the femoral arteries.

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Inflammation linked to more risk factors

Dr. Fernández-Friera says that they also found that "inflammation was associated with the presence of more risk factors; obesity and smoking, in particular, were independent predictors of the presence of arterial inflammation."

Dr. Fuster explains that the findings show how, because of the power of the technology, it is now possible to have "live images" of inflammation that can lead to atherosclerosis as it is happening.

This should help to diagnose the condition sooner and to identify people who are most likely to reap the benefits of early treatment.

Dr. Fuster proposes that further research should now "investigate whether inflammation precedes the development of the plaque and assess how the quantification of inflammation might contribute to the evaluation of cardiovascular risk."

He and his team are already looking in more detail at the process of arterial inflammation, and how it might contribute to plaque formation. They hope that this will result in an improvement in the anti-inflammatory treatment of atherosclerosis.

"Thanks to the PET/MRI technology, inflammation could be visualized at earlier stages of atherosclerosis disease, especially in regions free of atherosclerotic plaques."

Dr. Leticia Fernández-Friera

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Sugary drinks can be a factor in cardiovascular disease

Recent research uncovers an association between sugar-sweetened drinks and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
2 Soft drinks on a table in a restaurant
Sugary drinks seem to be linked with higher mortality rates from CVD.

The new study appeared in the journal Circulation, a publication of the American Heart Association (AHA).

The results showed that when people consumed more sugary drinks, their risk of death rose accordingly.

To understand this association, the researchers looked at data from 37,716 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and 80,647 women in the Nurses' Health Study.

After controlling for other dietary factors, physical activity, and BMI, the team determined that these sugary drinks were associated with higher mortality rates from cardiovascular disease (CVD), as well as higher cancer rates.

They also looked at the connection between artificially sweetened drinks and death.

The researchers found that replacing a sugary drink with an artificially sweetened beverage lowered the risk of death somewhat; however, drinking four or more artificially sweetened beverages was associated with a higher risk of death among women.

"Drinking water in place of sugary drinks is a healthy choice that could contribute to longevity," says Vasanti Malik, the study's lead author and a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA. She continues:

"Diet soda may be used to help frequent consumers of sugary drinks cut back their consumption, but water is the best and healthiest choice."

Vasanti Malik

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The prevalence of CVD

In the United States, CVD, when listed as the underlying cause of death, accounts for around 1 out of every 3 deaths. CVD is responsible for more deaths each year than all the types of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined, and it is the leading cause of death worldwide.

A number of risk factors are associated with CVD. Smoking tobacco is one of the biggest risk factors for the disease, as are a lack of physical activity and poor nutrition.

A healthy lifestyle is a factor that people can directly control when it comes to CVD, and the AHA have several suggestions about improving overall health and reducing the onset of the disease.

The AHA recommend that adults focus on getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. It is also important to avoid tobacco in any form, including vaping, cigarettes, and nicotine products.

Nutrition is another key component of cardiovascular health. The AHA suggest consuming plenty of produce, fiber-rich whole grains, poultry, and fish. For other meat, look for lean cuts and prepare them without added fats or excess sodium. Avoid foods high in saturated fat, and add foods that are rich in "good" fats, such as salmon and avocado.

Another vital goal, nutrition-wise, is avoiding added sugars. This not only includes sugar-sweetened beverages but foods as well, as added sugar can really add up over the course of a day and lead to unwanted effects.

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Unintended consequences

It can be difficult, the researchers say, to give up a long-ingrained habit of enjoying sugar-sweetened beverages.

Substituting an artificially sweetened drink for one laden in sugar can be a good idea, but for those who consume four or more per day, it might not be as safe as most people believe.

Water can not only take the place of beverages that carry health risks, it is crucial for good health, as it helps regulate temperature, keeps joints in good shape, and helps rid the body of waste.

Drinking water can also reduce a person's overall caloric intake as well as save money. Some people enjoy fruit-infused water, which contains some flavor without all the extra sugar.

"These findings are consistent with the known adverse effects of high sugar intake on metabolic risk factors and the strong evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, itself a major risk factor for premature death," explains Dr. Walter Willett, who co-authored the study.

He continues, "The results also provide further support for policies to limit marketing of sugary beverages to children and adolescents and for implementing soda taxes because the current price of sugary beverages does not include the high costs of treating the consequences."

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Stroke: Rewiring eye-brain connection may restore vision

Many people who have a stroke also experience vision impairment as a result. New groundbreaking research looks at the mechanisms that play a role in this damage and shows that it may be reversible.
a person's eye looking up
New research may offer people who have lost some of their vision due to a stroke renewed hope that they may regain it.

Existing research shows that about 60 percent of people who have a stroke sustain vision damage.

A stroke can affect different parts of the brain. When it occurs in the primary visual cortex, which is the region of the brain that processes visual information, the lack of oxygenated blood can mean that the neurons (brain cells) active in that region incur damage.

In turn, this will affect people's ability to see, and they may experience various degrees of vision loss. While some people who experience vision loss after a stroke may spontaneously regain their sight, most individuals do not.

So far, specialists have believed that damage to the primary visual cortex neurons causes a set of cells in the eye's retina called "retinal ganglion cells" to become atrophied, meaning that they lose their ability to function.

When retinal ganglion cells become atrophied, it is highly unlikely that a person will ever recover sight in the affected area.

However, a new study, the findings of which appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has uncovered more information about the brain damage mechanisms relating to impaired eyesight.

"The integration of a number of cortical regions of the brain is necessary in order for visual information to be translated into a coherent visual representation of the world," explains study co-author Dr. Bogachan Sahin, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

"And while the stroke may have disrupted the transmission of information from the visual center of the brain to higher order areas," he adds, "these findings suggest that when the primary visual processing center of the brain remains intact and active, clinical approaches that harness the brain's plasticity could lead to vision recovery."

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In the new study, the researchers worked with 15 participants who were receiving care at Strong Memorial and Rochester General Hospital for vision damage resulting from a stroke.

The participants agreed to take tests assessing their eyesight. They also had MRI scans to monitor their brain activity and an additional test that looked at the state of the retinal ganglion cells.

First, the investigators found that the health and survival of the retinal ganglion cells were highly dependent on activity in the associated primary visual area. Thus, the retinal cells connected to inactive brain areas would atrophy.

At the same time, however, the team surprisingly noted that some retinal cells in the eyes of people who had experienced vision impairment were still healthy and functional, even though the person had lost sight in that part of the eye.

This finding, the researchers explain, indicates that those healthy eye cells remained connected to fully active brain cells in the visual cortex. However, the neurons failed to correctly interpret the visual information that they received from the corresponding retinal ganglion cells, so the stimuli did not "translate" into sight.

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"These findings suggest a treatment protocol that involves a visual field test and an eye exam to identify discordance between the visual deficit and retinal ganglion cell degeneration," notes the study's first author Dr. Colleen Schneider.

"This could identify areas of vision with intact connections between the eyes and the brain, and this information could be used to target visual retraining therapies to regions of the blind field of vision that are most likely to recover," Dr. Schneider adds.

In the future, the researchers hope that their current discovery will allow specialists to fine-tune current therapeutic approaches or develop better strategies that will stimulate the damaged brain-eye connections to "rewire" correctly.

"This study breaks new ground by describing the cascade of processes that occur after a stroke in the visual center of the brain and how this ultimately leads to changes in the retina," says senior author Brad Mahon, Ph.D.

"By more precisely understanding which connections between the eye and brain remain intact after a stroke, we can begin to explore therapies that encourage neuroplasticity with the ultimate goal of restoring more vision in more patients."

Brad Mahon, Ph.D.

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Surgery with ultrasound treats high blood pressure in trial

A minimally invasive surgical procedure that targets nerves leading to the kidneys could one day offer a safe way for some people to reduce their blood pressure medications.
older lady looking at blood pressure results with doctor
Scientists find a new way to optimize blood pressure control.

Investigators have announced the 6-month results of an international clinical trial on the safety and effectiveness of renal denervation by ultrasound as a treatment for mild to moderate high blood pressure.

The findings featured recently at the American College of Cardiology Conference in New Orleans and in a study paper in the journal Circulation.

Surgeons carry out the procedure, which takes about 1 hour, under local anesthetic. It decreases activity in nerves that link the brain to the kidneys and carry signals that regulate blood pressure.

The 2-month results from the randomized, controlled trial had already shown that the procedure resulted in a more significant reduction in blood pressure, compared with a "sham operation."

None of the people in the trial took their blood pressure drugs during the first 2 months. They then resumed blood pressure medication in a managed way, as necessary.

Now, the more recent results reveal that the participants who underwent the ultrasound surgery maintained their reduced blood pressure for 6 months.

Compared with those who had the sham operation, fewer participants who had the surgery needed to resume blood pressure medication, and those who did required fewer drugs at lower doses.

"These results," says lead trial investigator in the United Kingdom Melvin D. Lobo, a professor at Queen Mary University in London and also of Barts Health NHS Trust, both in the U.K., "point towards an exciting future for this new technology."

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Hypertension and kidney nerves

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a growing global health issue. According to a report in The Lancet, between 1975 and 2015, the number of adults living with high blood pressure rose from 594 million to 1.13 billion.

Having high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, heart failure, and other conditions.

Some people can keep their blood pressure under control by watching their weight, doing plenty of exercise, and maintaining a healthful diet. Others may need to supplement these measures with medication.

However, some people struggle to control high blood pressure even with lifestyle changes and medication.

The kidneys have a rich system of nerves for sending and receiving messages.

Scientists have discovered that overactivity in this system can raise blood pressure through its interaction with the body's sympathetic nervous system.

Renal denervation by ultrasound is a treatment that aims to relieve high blood pressure by disrupting the nerves leading to the kidneys.

The procedure involves inserting a device through a catheter in the groin to reach up into the artery of a kidney. The device emits ultrasound waves that then heat up and damage some of the nerve fibers that surround the artery.

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6-month results look promising

The 6-month results report a comparison of the procedure with a sham operation in 140 people at 51 sites in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

After 6 months, 58 percent of those who underwent the procedure had maintained their lower blood pressure compared with 42 percent who had received the sham operation.

Overall, most of the participants needed to resume their medications to maintain blood pressure control. However, 35.8 percent of the renal denervation group were still not taking drugs at the 6-month point compared with only 15.5 percent in the sham operation group.

Those who underwent renal denervation also showed a greater reduction in blood pressure. After 6 months, the average reduction was 18.1 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) in the treatment group and 15.6 mm Hg in the sham operation group.

There were no safety issues among any of the participants.

It is important to know that the company that manufactures the renal denervation device that the surgeons used in this trial also funded the study.

"If long-term safety and efficacy are proven in larger trials which are currently underway, we hope that renal denervation therapy could soon be offered as an alternative to many lifelong medications for hypertension."

Prof. Melvin D. Lobo

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Why your gut may hold the key to cardiovascular health

New research, which appears in The Journal of Physiology, examines the role that gut bacteria might play in preserving the health of our arteries.
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Your gut may control the health of your arteries and heart, suggests new research.

An increasing number of studies suggest that the bacteria in our guts hold the key to healthy aging.

For instance, a recent conference that Medical News Today reported on featured research in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans. The results suggested that colonizing the gut with specific strains of bacteria, for example, can delay aging and prevent a host of age-related chronic diseases.

Now, research in mice strengthens the idea that gut bacteria mediate the aging process. Specifically, scientists have examined the link between the composition of the gut microbiota in mice and vascular aging.

Vienna Brunt, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is the study's lead author. Doug Seals, a professor and the director of the university's Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory, is the senior author.

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Studying gut bacteria and vascular health

Brunt and colleagues administered a "cocktail of broad‐spectrum, poorly absorbed antibiotics" to a group of young mice and a group of old mice. They added the antibiotics to the drinking water of the rodents for a period of 3–4 weeks to suppress their gut microbiota.

Next, the researchers examined the health of the rodents' vascular systems by measuring their arterial stiffness and the health of the endothelium — that is, the layer of cells that line the inside of the arteries.

Brunt and her team also examined the rodents' blood samples for markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, such as harmful free radicals.

Oxidative stress occurs when the body produces too many free radicals and does not have enough antioxidants to degrade them. Studies indicate that this phenomenon contributes to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and aging in general.

The researchers also measured levels of nitric oxide, a compound that expands the blood vessels. Finally, they examined the "age-related changes" in each rodent's gut microbiota.

At the end of the study period, the scientists found that the old mice benefited greatly from the antibiotic treatment, while the intervention had no effect on young mice.

Specifically, "When you suppressed the microbiome of the old mice, their vascular health was restored to that of young mice," reports Prof. Seals.

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How old age influences gut health

Next, the scientists set out to identify certain age-related changes in the microbiota of rodents. Their aim was to understand how suppressing the microbiota may preserve vascular health.

To do so, they genetically sequenced the fecal samples of another group of old mice and compared them with those of young mice.

"In general, in the old mice, we saw an increased prevalence of microbes that are pro-inflammatory and have been previously associated with diseases," says lead author Brunt.

These included taxa of microbes that previous studies had linked with gut dysbiosis — an imbalance between the "friendly" bacteria in our guts and other pathogens.

For example, the study found that the old mice had a higher concentration of proteobacteria — a major class that includes well-known pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter bacteria.

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The scientists also analyzed blood plasma levels of a compound called trimethylamine N‐oxide, or TMAO. This is a "gut-derived metabolite," which means that it is a compound produced when microorganisms in the gut break down nutrients from food.

Although the role of TMAO in chronic disease remains uncertain, some previous studies found high levels of TMAO in people with "cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cancer."

Specifically, recent studies have suggested that TMAO interacts with platelets and raises the risk of stroke and heart attack.

In the current study, the old mice had three times as much TMAO in their blood as the young mice, and the researchers found that antibiotic treatment suppressed TMAO levels.

Brunt and her team conclude:

"The results of the present study provide the first evidence for the gut microbiome being an important mediator of age-related arterial dysfunction and oxidative stress."

Fountain of youth may lie in the gut

The findings, continue the authors, also indicate "that therapeutic strategies targeting gut microbiome health may hold promise for preserving arterial function and reducing cardiovascular risk with aging in humans."

The researchers suggest that eating foods rich in probiotics, such as kefir, yogurt, or kimchi, may help preserve cardiovascular health well into old age.

Prof. Seals comments on the results, saying, "We have long known that oxidative stress and inflammation are involved in making arteries unhealthy over time, but we didn't know why arteries begin to get inflamed and stressed. Something is triggering this."

"We now suspect that, with age, the gut microbiota begins producing toxic molecules, including TMAO, which get into the bloodstream, cause inflammation and oxidative stress, and damage tissue," he continues.

In other words, say the authors, "The fountain of youth may actually lie in the gut."

"This is the first study to show that changes in the gut microbiome with aging have an adverse impact on vascular health. [...] It opens up a whole new avenue of potential interventions to prevent cardiovascular disease."

Vienna Brunt, Ph.D.

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10 minutes of leisurely activity per week may lower death risk

New research suggests that adults over the age of 40 who engage in leisurely physical activity — such as dancing, gardening, or going for a walk — for even a short amount of time each week may have a lower risk of death from multiple causes.
two mature women dancing together
Even short amounts of leisurely physical activity, such as dancing, may reduce a person's death risk.

Previous research has shown that engaging even in low-level physical activity — including leisurely tasks, such as gardening — may help protect brain health and cardiovascular health, among other benefits.

Now, a recent observational study, working with tens of thousands of people aged 40 and over has found a link between a lower risk of death from different causes and low levels of physical activity.

This was a collaborative study by researchers from the Shandong University in Jinan, China, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, as well as from other research institutions.

The research — whose results appeared yesterday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine — indicate that people who spend even a short time each week being physically active have a lower risk of death linked to cardiovascular, cancer, and all-cause mortality.

At the same time, the study authors note that participating in more intense types of exercise, including running and cycling, do have the potential to bring more significant health benefits.

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Even low-level activity cuts death risk

The researchers analyzed data collected through the National Health Interview Surveys — a series of yearly surveys that ask people from the United States to offer information about their health and lifestyle habits.

First author Min Zhao and colleagues looked at information gathered in 1997–2008 from 88,140 adults in the U.S., with ages ranging from 40 to 85. They also collated that data, which referred to health and physical activity practices, with information from national death registers, available up to the end of 2011.

For reference, the team estimated that 1 minute of vigorous exercise would equate to 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as gardening, dancing, or going for a brisk walk. In their analysis, the researchers only included physical activities that lasted for 10 or more minutes at one time.

The researchers found that, unlike people who were very physically inactive, individuals who engaged in 10–59 minutes of moderate, leisurely physical activity per week had an 18 percent lower risk of all-cause death.

People who engaged in moderate physical activity for a little longer — between 150 and 299 minutes per week — saw an even steeper drop in all-cause death risk, of 31 percent.

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And those who spent 1,500 minutes or more being physically active in their leisure time each week experienced a 46 percent decrease in their overall mortality risk.

The researchers observed similar associations between increased levels of physical activity and the risk of death related to cancer.

Finally, individuals who spent 10–59 minutes per week doing leisurely physical activities saw a 12 percent lower risk of death tied to cardiovascular events, and people who were active for 120–299 minutes every week had a 37 percent lower risk of death due to cardiovascular causes.

However, the researchers note that engaging in physical activities for much longer than 1,500 minutes per week did not bring any extra benefits in this respect.

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More is not better, but more vigorous is

Although the authors acknowledge that this was an observational study that cannot determine cause and effect relationships, they also note that the considerable cohort size is representative and that their current findings support existing notions about the benefits of engaging in moderate physical activity.

Nevertheless, the results also showed that people who opted for vigorous rather than lighter physical activity had a much lower mortality risk.

The authors do note that participating in 1,500 or more minutes of moderate physical activity per week "is difficult to achieve for a working adult," so they advise that "[p]articipation in vigorous-intensity activity is more time-efficient than moderate-intensity activity."

"Assuming causality of the associations we observed, both low and high levels of [physical activity] have beneficial effects on all-cause and cause-specific mortality risk," the authors conclude, adding:

"Importantly, vigorous [physical activity] has added benefits for reducing mortality compared with moderate [physical activity]. Promoting [physical activity] of any intensity and amount is an important approach to reducing mortality risk in the general population."

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Higher cholesterol, egg consumption linked to heart disease

A recent study has linked higher consumption of eggs or dietary cholesterol to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. The finding is likely to rekindle the debate on eggs and heart health.
close-up of hands preparing eggs in a pan
New research suggests that people should restrict their daily egg intake as part of a healthful diet.

For example, the new study seems to contradict the decision in the United States to omit specific limits on daily intakes of dietary cholesterol and eggs from official advice on healthful eating.

Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, and other institutions pooled and analyzed data from six U.S. cohort studies covering a total of 29,615 people. Of these, 45 percent were male and 31 percent were black.

They compared eating patterns at baseline, when the average participant age was 52 years, with cardiovascular diseases and deaths that occurred during a follow-up that lasted up to 31 years and whose midpoint was 17 years.

The team describes the findings in a JAMA paper.

Co-corresponding study author Norrina B. Allen Ph.D., an associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern, says that the "take-home message" of the study "is really about cholesterol, which happens to be high in eggs and specifically yolks."

"People who consume less cholesterol have a lower risk of heart disease," she adds.

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Guidelines do not limit cholesterol or eggs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the "leading cause of death" in the U.S.

For decades there has been a debate about whether consumption of eggs or dietary cholesterol raises the risk of heart disease and early death.

The official recommendation in the U.S. before 2015 was that people should limit their daily egg consumption to no more than 300 milligrams (mg), which is less than two large eggs.

The more recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, however, no longer provide limits on dietary cholesterol and egg intake. They include weekly intake of eggs as part of a healthful diet.

"Adequate evidence," they claim, "is not available for a quantitative limit for dietary cholesterol specific to the Dietary Guidelines."

The revised guidelines do, however, retain the message that the choice to drop specific limits does "not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building health[ful] eating patterns."

Only foods of animal origin — including dairy products, eggs, shellfish, poultry, and meat — contain dietary cholesterol.

Of the foods most typical of the U.S. diet, eggs contain the most cholesterol. There are around 186 mg of cholesterol in the yolk of a large egg.

The average U.S. adult consumes about 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day and about three or four eggs per week.

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Higher risk of heart disease and death

Dr. Allen believes that the problem with studies that have found no links between egg consumption and higher risk of cardiovascular disease is that they used less diverse samples and shorter follow-ups, and that they were less able to adjust for other items in the diet.

"Our study," she notes, "showed if two people had [the] exact same diet and the only difference in diet was eggs, then you could directly measure the effect of the egg consumption on heart disease."

The dietary data for the new study came either from completion of questionnaires or interviews that took place during a single visit. These yielded details of what each person had eaten either in the previous year or month.

Around 5,400 cardiovascular events and 6,132 deaths from all causes occurred over the follow-up period. Examples of cardiovascular events include diagnoses of heart disease, stroke, and heart failure.

The scientists found that for "each additional" intake of 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day, there was a significant 17 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 18 percent higher risk of death from any cause.

The team also calculated the "absolute risk differences" for these results. These were 3.24 percent and 4.43 percent, respectively.

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In other words, for every 1,000 participants in their study, there were 32 additional diagnoses of cardiovascular disease and 4 deaths for every extra 300 mg of cholesterol consumed per day.

The analysis also showed that for each additional half egg eaten per day, there was a 6 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8 percent higher risk of all-cause death.

The overall quality of people's diet, the type and amount of fat that they ate, and the amount of exercise that they undertook appeared to have no effect on these links.

"These results," explain the study authors, "should be considered in the development of dietary guidelines and updates."

Single snapshot of diet pattern

Among the study's strengths are the fact that it used a large and diverse sample of people from the U.S., and that there was a long follow-up period.

However, one limitation worth noting is that it only used a single snapshot of egg and cholesterol consumption, and that was at the beginning of the follow-up. People can change their eating habits, and 17–31 years offers plenty of opportunity to do so.

Commenting on the findings, Tom Sanders — who is a professor of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London in the United Kingdom — points out that because the study is prospective, it cannot establish cause and effect; it can only suggest links.

"However," he adds, "the take-home message supported by the accompanying editorial would support the view that a typical [U.S.] diet, which contains lots of meat and plenty of eggs, is associated with poor cardiovascular health and that the [country's] dietary guidelines should reinstate its recommendation that cholesterol intake should not exceed 300 mg per day."

"As part of a healthy diet, people need to consume lower amounts of cholesterol."

Norrina B. Allen Ph.D.

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Common blood pressure drug may increase cardiac arrest risk

A preliminary study concludes that a drug that doctors commonly prescribe to treat angina and blood pressure might increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
Woman with chest pain sitting on a bench
A recent study looked at the risk factors behind cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body. If a person does not receive treatment, cardiac arrest can be lethal within minutes.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), in the United States, around 475,000 people die from cardiac arrest each year.

It claims more lives than colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, pneumonia, influenza, vehicle accidents, firearms, HIV, and house fires combined.

The AHA describe cardiac arrest "as one of the most lethal public health problems in the U.S." So, because cardiac arrest is both serious and common, understanding the risk factors involved is essential.

To this end, the European Resuscitation Council set up a project that collects data on cardiac arrest, called the European Sudden Cardiac Arrest network (ESCAPE-NET).

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A new risk factor?

A recent study using ESCAPE-NET data investigated whether a common group of drugs might play a role in cardiac arrest.

Healthcare providers use dihydropyridines to treat high blood pressure and angina, which is chest pain related to reduced blood flow to the heart. The project focused on two dihydropyridines: nifedipine and amlodipine.

The scientists had access to data from the Dutch Amsterdam Resuscitation Studies registry and the Danish Cardiac Arrest Registry, both of which form part of ESCAPE-NET.

The researchers presented their findings at EHRA 2019, the annual congress of the European Heart Rhythm Association, which is taking place in Lisbon, Portugal.

In total, they had access to data from more than 10,000 people who were taking dihydropyridines and 50,000 controls.

Their analysis showed that those who took high-dose nifedipine were significantly more likely to have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest than those who were not taking dihydropyridines or who were taking amlodipine.

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Why might this be happening?

The scientists moved into the laboratory to examine why the actions of the two drugs differed. Both use the same mechanism, so why does one increase the risk of cardiac arrest while the other appears to make no difference?

Dihydropyridines work by blocking L-type calcium channels. When these channels are blocked, the action potential of cardiac cells becomes shorter.

The phrase "action potential" describes a change in the charge of a membrane associated with the transmission of an impulse. They occur in nerves and muscle cells.

This change could, potentially, drive the arrhythmias that lead to cardiac arrests.

Interestingly, these in vitro experiments matched the findings of the population study. High doses of nifedipine shortened action potentials significantly more than high-dose amlodipine.

"Nifedipine and amlodipine are often used by many cardiologists and other physicians, and the choice often depends on the prescriber's preference and personal experience."

ESCAPE-NET project leader Dr. Hanno Tan

Dr. Tan adds, "Both drugs are generally considered to be equally effective and safe and neither has been associated with sudden cardiac arrest."

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"This study suggests that high-dose nifedipine may increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest due to fatal cardiac arrhythmia while amlodipine does not."

It is important to note that because this is a new line of investigation, it will be vital to replicate the findings using more participants and other demographics.

As Dr. Tan concludes, "If these findings are confirmed in other studies, they may have to be taken into account when the use of either drug is considered."

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