Friday, February 27, 2009

Do Children Have High Blood Cholesterol?

About 1 in 5 Singaporean have high blood cholesterol, as reported by a 2004 National Health Survey. Perhaps, these people should be blamed for their love of artery-clogging foods. In fact, some of these people are just teenagers. For example, there is a 13 year-old pupil has a cholesterol level of 320 mg/dl, will you believe?

The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines stipulated that the acceptable cholesterol level for children and teenagers aged 2 to 19 should be below 170 mg/dl, while the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol should be kept under 110 mg/dl. LDL is also known as the bad cholesterol that increases the risk of cholesterol deposits within the walls of blood vessels.

It is not uncommon that children or teenagers, like adults, can have high blood cholesterol. As no official figures are available presently on the number of children with high cholesterol, not many parents are aware of the problem.

High blood cholesterol can be a silent killer because the bad effects do not show immediately but much later in life. Therefore, many parents do not realize the danger behind this. In fact, it has been linked to coronary heart disease and stroke. The earlier a person has high cholesterol, the more health problems he or she will encounter in the future.

In general, high blood cholesterol level is due to excessive consumption of foods high in cholesterol, saturated and trans fats. Nevertheless, genes and family history could also be the cause for high cholesterol in young patients. According to the figures provided by Health Promotion Board (HPB), it affects 9.5 percent of Singaporean children.

A recently study, published by National University Hospital (NUH), on 250 severely obese Singaporean children revealed that more than one-third of these children had high LDL cholesterol levels.

Does this mean that all parents must send their kids for cholesterol screen? Not really, parents should start by watching their child’s diet from the time they were young.

Parents should limit their children’s cholesterol intake to no more than 300 mg per day and saturated and trans fats intake to less than 10 and 1 percent of their total daily calorie intake respectively. These recommendations are for children aged 2 and above.

Moreover, parents should encourage their children to adopt positive healthy practices, such as regular exercise and healthy diet as these can help prevent obesity and other chronic conditions like diabetes later in their life.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Youth Studying Closed to Fast Food Restaurants Tend to be Obese!

Fast food has been accused as the culprit responsible for the prevailing obesity epidemic among the youngsters. Evidence has already shown that obese people have higher chance of getting heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many other medical disorders.

Consumer groups have actively pushed for laws on new fast food restaurants in certain Los Angeles neighborhoods, and the food industry often responds and maintains that a lack of exercise is more to blame.

The youth obesity rates in United States have tripled since 1980, although they did level off this decade. According to the figures from government, 32 percent of United States children are overweight and 16 percent are obese.

Published on December 23, 2008 in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers from Azusa Pacific University in California reported that youth who study near a fast-food outlet eat fewer servings of fruit and vegetables, drink more soda, and they are more likely to be obese or overweight than students at other schools are.

Involving more than 500,000 adolescents at middle schools and high schools in California, the study examined the relationship between obesity among these students and fast food restaurants located within half a mile (0.8 km) of schools.

The weight and dietary information from a statewide school survey between 2002 and 2005 were recorded and the data was cross-referenced with a database of top fast food chains located near each school.

The researchers discovered that fast food outlets near schools did affect students’ eating habits, and hence overweight and obesity. Results clearly showed that students, who were exposed to nearby fast food, have a higher level of body mass index. In other words, they just weighed more. However, they could not determine the exact rationale why fast food restaurants near schools have such an impact.

Possible explanation should go beyond than easy accessing to burgers, fries and tacos. Perhaps, ‘a nearby fast food restaurant is a perfect location for people to socialize’ might be the reason.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why Certain Foods Cannot Be Mixed With Heart Medications?

Since I was young, I used to hear from people that Chinese Herb can never be taken with Western medications as this could result in disastrous consequences. Frankly, I have no idea on how this would happen.

Recently, I came across an article cautioning people not to mix certain foods with Western medications, to prevent possible harmful effects to the body. Of course, the authors mentioned several types of drugs that should not be mixed with certain foods, but what listed below is pertaining to heart medications.

According to the author, mixing certain foods and drugs, even though it seems perfectly harmless, can be bad for some people. The nature of certain foods, beverages and even dietary supplements may just change the effects of the medications or prevent the drugs from working properly.

Medications taken orally are, like foods, absorbed through the lining of the stomach or small intestine. When both are taken together, the food in the digestive tract might raise or lower the absorption of the medication. People who are prescribed with drugs for heart disease should take note of the followings.

For those on certain cholesterol-lowering drugs, like atorvastatin, lovastatin and simvastatin, grapefruit should not be consumed with the drugs since this could raise their potency.

As explained by the author, components in the fruit do prevent the body from breaking down the medication, which would cause the drug to accumulate in high amounts in the body. This can be very dangerous as such health complications as liver damage or rhabdomyolysis may be triggered. The latter is a rare condition in which severe muscle and kidney damage occurs.

For the similar reason, patients prescribed with calcium channel blockers, drugs that help control high blood pressure, should not take their drugs with grapefruits.

Some foods may alter the chemical actions of a drug in a way that its therapeutic effect on the body is lost. For example, foods like liver and green leafy vegetables that are high in Vitamin-K are capable of clotting blood. If people take too much of them, the effectiveness of certain anti-coagulants (blood thinning drug) would be reduced.

Oatmeal is generally considered as a heart-healthy food that could help reduce bad cholesterol. However, people who are on digoxin should not eat too much of it. Digoxin is a drug that is used by doctors to treat various heart diseases. In fact, fiber in oatmeal and other cereals can affect the absorption of these medications when patients consume in large quantity.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Inactive Kids Are At Risk of Heart Disease As Teens!

Childhood obesity has been a major issue facing governments around the world. This is because obese kids can develop heart disease, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and even some types of cancer later in their life. The amount of medical expenses thus incurred is expected to be huge and this surely will create great pressure on the authorities concerned.

Most health experts have attributed such epidemic to unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle. A recent finding published on April 4, 2008 in the British journal Dynamic Medicine pointed out that young children who have sedentary lifestyles are up to 6 times more likely to be at serious risk of heart disease later in life, than their peers who are active. Meanwhile, the cluster of symptoms reflecting heart trouble, known as metabolic syndrome, could just show up as early as at the teen years.

In the study, key health indicators like blood pressure, body mass, cholesterol levels, height, percentage of body fat were measured for about 400 kids between 7 and 10 by the researchers from the University of North Carolina. Their frequency and duration of physical exercise were also monitored.

7 years later, these children were reexamined as teenagers and it was found that there was nearly 5 percent of the adolescents had 3 or more of core symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

Such result more or less confirmed the previous research that showed 4 to 9 percent of adolescents in the United States have some combination of glucose intolerance, hypertension, obesity and a worrying cholesterol count.

The study also found that adolescents with the syndrome were 6 times more likely to have low aerobic fitness as children, and 5 times more likely to have low levels of physical activity when the study began. These kids at best brisk walked, rode a bike or performed some equivalent activity for not more than 20 minutes a day.

This was indeed very much lower than that recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that children should exert themselves at this level for at least an hour per day.

It is undeniable that children today have adopted a very sedentary life and are prone to overweight or even obesity. The new findings have already highlighted the link between sedentary life and heart disease. As such, efforts to ensure kids to increase exercise in their childhood as early as possible are inevitable. It is better to keep fit now rather than suffer the health consequences later in life.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How Can Worm Offer Clues on Heart Attack?

Worm can offer clues on heart attack. This statement sounds a bit weir or simply unbelievable. Not really, especially after you have read the following report.

The fact that worms can survive with almost no oxygen has actually provided a clue for the scientists on how to rescue oxygen-starved cells in human who have a heart attack or stroke.

Recently, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis identified a gene, which can help cells slows down when oxygen levels get too low. By so doing, the cells are protected from making fatal mistakes when there is a lack of oxygen. Their findings were published on January 29, 2009 in journal Science.

According to the researchers, in the event of stroke and heart attack, cells will die because of lack of oxygen, and they are trying to find new approaches for the understanding of why this would happen.

In the study, genetic engineering techniques on worms called Caenorhabditis elegans were employed to locate genes, which help them survive better with little oxygen. Eventually, a gene that could be ‘turned down’ in the worms was identified and this would help the worms survive with little oxygen. Normal worms would just die if they were exposed to the same conditions.

The gene was located in the mitochondria, or powerhouse of the cells. The researchers believe that the cells might be protected if they are put into some kind of hibernation so that they do not require much oxygen.

In a second experiment, the research team also figured out how genes fold proteins, by making them into the shapes they need to function best. It was found that improperly folded proteins could die, and in fact, low-oxygen environments have been associated with high levels of unfolded proteins. The experiment also showed that slowing down the cell could also help prevent damage caused by faulty proteins.

Meanwhile, they plan to carry out further study to see if the same approach can help nerve cells in mammals. Should that happens; it is possible for scientists to target this process for therapy. It is hoped that someday drugs would be designed to help human cells survive without oxygen.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Statin Might Help Many More People to Prevent Heart Disease!

The so-called Jupiter study showed that Crestor can dramatically reduce death, heart attack and stroke in patients having healthy cholesterol level but high level of a protein (C-reactive protein) associated with heart disease. The findings indicated that Crestor reduces heart attack, stroke, need for bypass or angioplasty procedures and cardiovascular death by 45 percent over less than 2 years. The Jupiter study was funded by AstraZeneca, the manufacturer for Crestor.

In a recent study, researchers from Yale University in Connecticut found that Crestor, the world’s top-selling cholesterol-lowering drug, could benefit nearly 20 percent more men and women over the age of 50 and 60 respectively in the United States. Their findings were published on January 13, 2009 in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Looking at people with high levels of C-reactive protein, the United States researchers examined whether statins would lower their heart disease rates. Survey data from United States government were used to determine how many more people might be helped by statins, also taking into consideration of C - reactive protein levels.

The prevailing guidelines used by United States doctors indicate about 58 percent of men age 50 and older and women 60 and older, or 34 million people, would benefit from taking statins to reduce heart attack and stroke risk.

Finding from the study indicated that another 19 percent of men and women in those age groups or 11 million people should be taking the drugs. This means that 77 percent of Americans in those age groups or 45 million people should take the drugs

If the result of the study were correct, the majority of people would be recommended to take statin. Nevertheless, the researchers are not prepared to advocate such an expansion of existing guidelines on who should take statin. Instead, they felt that it is important to implement a more in-depth study of further implication that also includes cost-analysis to help future decision-making processes on the preventive measure for the population as a whole.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How Is Erectile Dysfunction Related to Heart Disease?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) or impotence is a common condition worldwide. It is estimated that some 30 million men in the United States are affected by ED. Though it can occur at any age, it is more common among the older men and less seen among the young ones. In general, most men have experienced ED at least some of the time by the age of 45.

ED is often regarded by doctors as a lifestyle issue, but a recent study had rated it as an important problem that provides an early warning of a heart attack. In fact, there is evidence that such condition doubles the risk of heart disease.

British researchers from the Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham warned on October 22, 2008 in the British Medical Journal that men with ED are at a 50 percent higher risk of having heart problems, a level that is comparable to moderate smoking. Smoking has long been regarded as a risk factor of developing heart disease.

Despite the evidence, doctors normally do not screen for ED or low testosterone in patients with Type-2 diabetes or coronary heart disease. Patients with coronary heart disease are usually prescribed by their physicians with drugs that actually make ED worse. Of course, some effective drug treatments do exist, and the patients usually prefer to pay privately because ED has been treated as a recreational or 'lifestyle' issue.

Drugs for ED, such as Pfizer's Viagra or sildenafil, Eli Lilly's Cialis or tadalafil, and Bayer AG's Levitra or vardenafil, work by increasing blood flow to the genitals.

As pointed out by the researchers, the condition is the manifestation of vascular disease in smaller arteries and gives a 2 to 3 year early warning of a heart attack. Therefore, cardiologists should not feel uncomfortable discussing such issue with their patients; otherwise, their act might be regarded as clinically negligent.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Is Heart Scan Suitable for All?

When a patient is suspected of having or already has symptoms of heart disease, diagnostic tests such as computed tomography (CT) angiograms or nuclear stress tests would usually be recommended by his or her doctor.

Being a heart-imaging test, a coronary CT angiogram can find out whether fatty or calcium deposits have built up in the arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle. On the other hand, nuclear stress tests can determine if there is a lack of blood flow in the heart muscle, which could signal a blockage in a heart artery.

However, in a scientific advisory released on February 2, 2009 in the journal Circulation by the American Heart Association (AHA) suggested that doctors should use these tests carefully and avoid screening their patients regularly for cardiac problems. Doctors are also advised to weigh risks and benefits before recommending to their patients because such low-dose radiation does has the potential to cause cancer.

According to AHA, recommendation for heart scan should not be given to a patient who is at low risk of having heart disease and who has no symptoms of heart disease. Doctors should have careful consideration and send their patients for cardiac imaging only when this would potentially benefit the patients.

Nevertheless, it is not the intention of the AHA to scare the public that these diagnostic tests are dangerous and should not be utilized at all. What they mean is that: use the right tests in the right patient!

Medical imaging techniques represent the biggest source of controllable radiation exposure of Americans, and that is why doctors should be aware of the potential harm from even relatively small doses of radiation

Whenever and wherever possible, doctors should tackle clinical question from their patients without using ionizing radiation. However, once the doctors are certain that ionizing radiation is necessary; they should try every effort to reduce the radiation dose.

In United States, there is no federal regulation of radiation dose, with the exception for mammograms (for breast cancer). It is up to the doctors and medical facilities to determine the appropriate use of the scanning equipment and radiation dose.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Nicotine-Free Cigarettes On The Way, Are You Sure?

Smoking is bad for the health of smokers as well as non-smokers through second-hand smoke. Besides cancers, nicotine contained in cigarettes can cause heart disease, stroke and many other diseases.

Recently, Japanese researchers had identified a gene that transports nicotine through tobacco plants, which could help manufacture cigarettes free of carcinogen. Carcinogen is a substance or agent that can cause cancer or increase its propagation.

In a joint study by Kyoto University's Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere and Ghent University of Belgium, the experts found the gene Nt-JAT1 transports nicotine to vacuoles, or bags accumulating water and other substances in the cells of tobacco leaves. In their experiments, they confirmed that yeast with Nt-JAT1 carry nicotine. They published the results in the online version of the Proceedings of National Academy of Science in January 2009.

Tobacco plants were already known to produce nicotine in their roots and carry it to their leaves. The new finding makes it possible for the cigarette manufacturers to produce tobacco free from nicotine in the leaves.

This would not only help smokers stem nicotine addiction without the use of anti-smoking goods, but also benefit non-smokers as tobacco smoke is free from nicotine. Besides tobacco industry, such discovery could also be used for medical and agricultural purposes.

No one can actually predict whether cigarettes with little or no nicotine would well be accepted by the smokers, but the researchers argued that the gene could also transport compounds, which can be used as medicine.

It has been known that nicotine is part of a group of compounds known as alkaloids. In fact, some alkaloids extracted from plants are employed for fighting cancer. This new discovery could be used to make plants build up higher levels of useful alkaloids.

It is believed that other genes could be involved in carrying nicotine through tobacco plants, but the research on these genes has yet to be completed.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How is Sunshine Vitamin Related to Heart Disease Prevention?

Vitamin-D is produced in the body when our skin is exposed to sunlight. That is why people also name it as ‘sunshine vitamin’. It can be found in milk and in fatty fish like salmon. It helps absorb calcium, and it is considered important for bone health. A deficiency of Vitamin-D can lead to osteoporosis for adults, and rickets in children.

Researchers from the University of Graz in Austria reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine on June 23, 2008 that people without enough Vitamin-D are at a higher risk of dying sooner than those with a higher amount of Vitamin-D.

As suggested by the Austrian researchers, the death rates from heart disease as well as any other causes varied greatly depending on Vitamin-D. Being considered as the latest to associate health benefits with Vitamin-D, the study showed that Vitamin-D did affect mortality irrespective of the first primary reason for death.

More than 3,200 people with an average age of 62 were involved in the study. These participants were scheduled for a heart examination between 1997 and 2000. During the 8-year follow-up program, the researchers found that the quarter of volunteers with the lowest levels of Vitamin-D were more likely to have died.

The risk was doubled for people with between 5 to 10 nanograms per milliliter of Vitamin-D in their blood, even after taking into account of heart disease, exercise and other conditions.

The study did not highlight what causes this effect, but a number of recent studies have already suggested that Vitamin-D might protect against cancer, peripheral artery disease and tuberculosis. In fact, United States researchers indicated just a week earlier (mid June 2008) that Vitamin-D might extend the lives of people who had colon and rectal cancer.

A consensus among doctors is that people should have at least 20 to 30 nanograms per milliliter of Vitamin-D in their blood. Most people, however, just do not have enough of it. People with low levels of Vitamin-D cannot make up for it safely just by sitting in the sun. Instead, they have to take supplements.

The new findings should prod doctors to be more aware of the problem, especially for those immobile, elderly and others who spend a great deal of time indoors. Meanwhile, the researchers also hope that the results would prompt people to perform measurements on Vitamin-D more frequently, especially for those populations at risk.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Can Smoking Ban Really Prevent Heart Disease?

Smoking is one of the risk factor that can develop not only heart disease but also a variety of cancers, stroke, and emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD is a progressive disease that makes a person difficult to breathe, and it can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.

Smoking not only harms the smokers but also the people around the smokers through second-hand smoke. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Untied States, the heart disease rates in adult non-smokers could be raised by 25 to 30 percent through long-term exposure to second-hand smoke. Every year, an estimated 46,000 Americans died of second-hand smoke.

Therefore, cities around the world have been implementing measures to ban smoking officially in the public places. However, people, especially smokers, may wonder whether this measure effective in preventing disease?

The answer is yes!

CDC announced on 31 December 2008 in the their weekly report on death and disease that the smoking ban helped reduce heart attack by more than 40 percent in one United States City and the decline actually lasted 3 years.

In 2003, Pueblo in Colorado passed a municipal law to refrain smoking in workplaces and public places. Meanwhile, CDC officials also commenced a study to track hospitalizations for heart attack after the smoking ban.

The findings showed that there were 399 hospital admissions for heart attacks in Pueblo in the 18 months before the ban, and 237 heart attack hospitalizations in the next year and a half. In other words, there was a drop of 41 percent. Such effect lasted for 3 years.

As explained by CDC, people’s cardiovascular systems are harmed almost immediately by exposing to second-hand smoke, and prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke can cause the non-smokers to develop heart disease, too.

In conclusion, the new study further confirms the existing evidence that smoking ban can really reduce illness and deaths from heart disease.