Friday, January 28, 2011

Scorpion Toxin Might Benefit Heart Bypass Patients!

The first impression that we hear about scorpions is that we should stay away from them to avoid being stung because poison delivered by some species of scorpion could be deadly. But a new discovery by scientists on scorpions could be good news for heart disease patients.

A paper published on September 29, 2010 in “Cardiovascular Research”, an International Basic Science Journal of the European Society of Cardiology, revealed that a toxin found in the venom of the Central American bark scorpion (Centruroides margaritatus) could help reduce heart bypass failures.

In a study funded by the British Heart Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, researchers from the University of Leeds found that one of the scorpion’s toxins, margatoxin, is at least 100 times more capable in preventing neointimal hyperplasia than any other known compound.

Being the most common cause of bypass graft failure, neointimal hyperplasia is the blood vessel's response to injury. It triggers the growth of new cells, causing chronic blockage on the inside of the vessel.

When a vein is grafted onto the heart during a bypass procedure, the injury response begins as the vein tries to adapt to the new environment and different circulatory pressures. The growth of new cells does help strengthen the vein, but the internal cell growth restricts blood flow and ultimately causes the graft to fail.

The toxin works by suppressing the activity of a specific potassium ion channel, a pore in the cell membrane that opens and closes in response to electrical signals, and indirectly enhances delivery of an intracellular messenger, the calcium ion.

In fact, there were a number of good blockers of the ion channel available. Several compounds are developed from plants but margatoxin was the most potent.

It is believed that margatoxin would probably not suitable as a drug that could be swallowed, inhaled or injected. However, it could be used as a spray-on treatment to the vein itself once it has been removed and is waiting to be grafted onto the heart.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Interesting Proposal For Fast Food Restaurants!

Health experts have long regarded fast food as unhealthy because its high salt and high fat contents are responsible for causing regular patrons of fast food restaurants become overweight and obese.

As we are all aware, overweight or obesity is the root of many other complications including high cholesterol, Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Therefore, many fast food restaurants have already started to alter their recipes making them looked “less unhealthy”. For example, some have lowered the salt contents while others might add in more vegetables.

Lately, health professionals had proposed an interesting idea to the fast food restaurants. Researchers from the National Heart and Lung Institute at the Imperial College London suggested in the April 2010’s issue of the American Journal of Cardiology that fast food restaurants should give away free cholesterol-busting statins drugs together with their burgers and fries to their customers as a way to offset the possible heart disease risks caused by the food.

Statins, a family of cholesterol-lowering medications including Crestor and Lipitor, are currently available only by prescription. They have been famous of its ability to lower the amount of unhealthy LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in the blood. Numerous studies have also shown that statins are very effective in preventing a heart attack.

According to the researchers, taking a statin tablet could help reduce the increased risk of developing heart disease because of the high fat content in a medium-sized cheeseburger and a small milkshake.

I am sure many of us would not find the new idea convincing. Even some health professionals are skeptical about the proposal and they caution that one should not take the suggestion literally.

In defending their proposal, the researchers used car seat belt as metaphor. They argued that people are advised to fasten their seat belts while traveling in car because of the increased risks to their health when driving or sitting in a car. Likewise, some people do eat unhealthily so they should be given some drugs to offset the possible bad effects.

Nevertheless, they did admit that statins could not eliminate all the unhealthy effects of burgers and fries. Therefore, the best way to stay healthy is still to avoid fatty food.

Friday, January 21, 2011

If You Do Not Want To Have Stroke, Start Walking

Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the third largest cause of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is either blocked or bursts (hemorrhage).

A person who has a stroke might not able to move one or more limbs on one side of the body, to understand or formulate speech, or to see one side of the visual field. Being a medical emergency, stroke can cause permanent neurological damage, complications and even death.

Obviously, one should strive to keep stroke away!

A study conducted by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston revealed that women can lower their stroke risk by walking. They reported on April 6, 2010 in the American Heart Association (AHF) journal “Stroke” that women who walked briskly had a 37 percent lower risk of stroke than those who did not walk, and women who walked at least 2 hours a week at any pace had a 30 percent lower risk.

Previous studies have already shown that physical activity reduces the likelihood of getting stroke, the new study looked at what kind of exercise might be most beneficial for women.

About 39,000 female health workers aged 45 or older enrolled in the Women’s Health Study were involved in the study. The women were periodically asked about their physical activity. During the 12 years of follow-up, 579 of them had stroke. Age, aspirin use, smoking and other factors that could affect stroke risk were taken into account.

While the study also examined vigorous activities such as running, swimming and biking in addition to walking, no link between these vigorous activities and a reduced stroke risk was found. According to the researchers, it is possible that there were insufficient number of women in that group to show a difference, and it is also likely that moderate activity is better at lowering blood pressure, which is a strong risk factor for stroke.

Besides high blood pressure, risk factors for stroke include heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, and obesity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Will Heart Implant Benefit Patients Aged 80 And Beyond?

If a person is diagnosed with heart failure, which is caused by the inability of the right and left chambers of the heart to pump sufficient amounts of blood around the body, he or she might be ordered by the doctor to go for cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT).

CRT uses a specialized device implanted in the body to synchronize the contractions of the right and left ventricles of the heart, which pump the blood by using electrical stimulation. Studies have confirmed the benefits provided by CRT on appropriately selected patients and recent trials have also shown that such devices could save up to 36 percent of heart failure patients.

Nevertheless, a paper appeared on April 12, 2010 in the journal “Archives of Internal Medicine” argued that people age 80 and beyond who get a pacemaker or defibrillator are more likely to die in the hospital after the procedure than younger patients.

Most clinical trials conducted previously looked at implantable heart devices involving people in the 50s and 60s, though about a fifth of these implants were actually used in people over age 80.

Researchers from Saint Louis University School of Medicine analyzed data from 26,887 adults with heart failure who underwent implantation of a defibrillator or CRT device in 2004 or 2005. Results of their analysis showed that the death rate in the hospital was 0.7 percent among patients younger than 80, compared to 1.2 percent in those aged 80 to 85 and 2.2 percent in those older than 85. Patients age 80 and beyond accounted for nearly 18 percent of the procedures.

The findings have indicated that certain patient subgroups might not benefit from device implantation. For instance, using implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) does not help patients with kidney failure and those with advanced heart failure live any longer.

ICD detects dangerous heart rhythms and automatically shock an errant heartbeat back into a normal rhythm. A pacemaker is a medical device, which uses electrical impulses, delivered by electrodes contacting the heart muscles, to regulate the beating of the heart.

Friday, January 07, 2011

A New Way To Curb Heart Failure!

You might have heard a lot about heart failure, either from newspapers or from friends and relatives. For instance, someone had collapsed or dropped death because of heart failure. But, how much do you know about heart failure?

More often than not, heart failure is incorrectly used to describe other heart-related disease including myocardial infarction (heart attack) and cardiac arrest. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, heart failure is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood at an adequate rate or in adequate volume, or cessation of heartbeat (death).

Victims of heart failure might not die instantly but heart failure is a potentially deadly condition. About 2 percent of adults in developed countries suffer from heart failure. For those aged 65 and above, the number increases to between 6 and 10 percent.

Heart failure can be triggered by heart events such as myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and other forms of ischemic heart disease, hypertension, valvular heart disease, and cardiomyopathy. A number of symptoms, including shortness of breath (typically worse when lying flat), coughing, ankle swelling, and exercise intolerance, can be seen in people with heart failure.

Frequently, doctors treat their heart failure patients by changing lifestyle such as smoking cessation, light exercise, reduced salt intake and changes in diets; medications; implantation of devices or in serious case by surgery.

Recently, researchers from Nova Southeastern University (NSU) revealed a breakthrough method to curb heart failure. In a paper appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, they reported that they had found a way, using gene therapy, to block the actions of a gene-encoded protein that can contribute to heart failure.

The protein, known as beta-arrestin 1, can raise the production of aldosterone, which is a hormone, from the body's adrenal glands into the blood. It also increases the re-absorption of sodium and water into kidneys, causing high blood volume and blood pressure. Moreover, it has several direct damaging effects on the heart, such as fibrosis, hypertrophy, and inflammation.

An increase in blood volume means higher blood pressure. This in turn decreases the pumping action of the heart, and is one of the causes of heart failure. By blocking beta-arrestin 1 through the gene therapy approach, it is hoped that reduction of the severity of heart failure could be achieved.