Monday, November 26, 2012

Why Should Women Breastfeed Their Babies?

Health experts usually advise mothers-to-be to breastfeed their babies for the first 6 months and then to continue breastfeeding along with solid food until their babies are one year old.
Breastfeeding is generally believed to benefit both the babies and the mothers. Studies had shown that breastfeeding help protect babies against common ills like diarrhea and middle ear infections. Meanwhile, research also found that women who breastfeed have lower risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease later in life.
A study that was published on October 12, 2011 in the ‘American Journal of Epidemiology’ reported that mothers, who breastfed for at least 6 months, might have a lower risk of getting high blood pressure over 14 years, comparing with those who had only bottle-fed.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill examined the correlation between breastfeeding and later risk of high blood pressure among 55,636 female participants in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study II. All these women had at least one baby.
From 1991 to 2005, 8,861 women were diagnosed with high blood pressure. The risk of developing high blood pressure for women who did not breastfeed their first child were 22 percent higher than those who had exclusively breastfed their child for 6 months. In the meantime, the researchers also found that women who had either never breastfed or done so for 3 months or less were almost 25 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who had breastfed for at least a year. Factors such as diet, exercise and smoking habits had been taken into consideration before arriving the results.
However, the researchers admitted that none of their findings have proven that breastfeeding itself offers long-term protection against high blood pressure. It is possible that there were some other factors like a stressful working environment that hindered women from breastfeeding and contributed to their blood pressure.
On the other hand, it is also likely that breastfeeding has direct benefits. In fact, animal research has found that the hormone oxytocin, which is involved in breastfeeding, has lasting effects on blood pressure. In addition, it is known that women tend to have a lower short-term blood pressure immediately after breastfeeding.
It is estimated by the researchers that 12 percent of high blood pressure cases among women with children might be linked to suboptimal breastfeeding, provided if breastfeeding is in fact protective. They also argued that if this is a casual relationship, taking steps to clear obstacles for breastfeeding could actually help women’s health later on.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Are All Fast Food Tied To Heart Disease?

People like fast food because it can be prepared and served very quickly. However, fast food has been linked to many health disorders including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
Now the question is: Are all fast food the same?
In a paper published on July 2, 2012 in the journal ‘Circulation’, a group of researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, National University of Singapore and University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health reported that American style fast food such as burgers and fries would raise the risk of diabetes and heart disease but the Asian fast food like noodles and dumplings would not.
The study aimed to examine the link between Western-style fast food intake and the risk of incident Type-2 diabetes and coronary heart disease (CHD). It involved 63,257 Chinese Singaporean aged between 45 and 75 who enrolled in the Singapore Chinese Health Study from April 1993 to December 1998. Through process of in-person interview, these individuals answered questions on usual diet, demographics, height and weight, use of tobacco, usual physical activity, menstrual and reproductive history (women only), medical history, and family history of cancer. These participants were followed for about a decade.
For CHD mortality, 52,584 participants were included and 1,397 deaths were found through December 31, 2009, via registry linkage. For Type-2 diabetes, 43,176 participants were included and 2,252 cases were identified during the follow-up interview (1999–2004).
The findings showed that those who consumed fast food 2 or more times a week had 27 percent higher risk of diabetes and 56 percent higher risk of cardiac death than those who ate little or no fast food. Among 811 participants who ate Western-style fast food 4 or more times a week, the risk of cardiac death was raised by 80 percent. Even after adjusting for other factors such as age, sex, weight, smoking status and education level, the findings still held.
On the other hand, the study did not find any association between more cases of Type-2 diabetes and cardiac deaths with eating Eastern fast food like dim sum, noodles and dumplings.
It is interesting to note that Singaporeans, who ate Western fast food, were more likely to be younger, educated and physically active, and were less likely to smoke, than those who preferred a more traditional diet.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Should You Take Medicines If You Have Prehypertension?

A person’s blood pressure is measured by 2 readings, systolic (top reading) and diastolic (bottom reading). For instance, a person’s blood pressure is considered normal if the blood pressure readings stay below 120/80 mm Hg. When the readings are persistently at 140/90 mm Hg or higher, this person is said to have hypertension, or more commonly known as high blood pressure.
However, there is a group of people whose blood pressures are between 120/80 and 139/89 mm Hg. They are said to have prehypertension. In the United States, it is estimated that more than 50 million adults develop prehypertension. If these people do not monitor and manage their blood pressure properly, they are very likely to become victims of hypertension.
Most people with hypertension are not aware of their condition. But hypertension is a risk factor for a number of disorders including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and peripheral arterial disease.
In a paper published online on December 8, 2011 in ‘Stroke’ (Journal of the American Heart Association), researchers from the Harrington-McLaughlin Heart and Vascular Institute in Cleveland, Ohio found that people with prehypertension had a lower risk of stroke when they took blood pressure-lowering medicines.
After examining data collected from 16 studies, researchers compared anti-hypertensive drugs against placebo in 70,664 people with average blood pressure within the pre-hypertensive range. They found that patients who took blood pressure-lowering medicines had a 22 percent lower risk of stroke, comparing to those taking a placebo.
While there was no significant reduction in the risk of heart attack, there was a trend toward lower cardiovascular death in patients who took blood pressure medicines as compared with those on placebo. 169 patients had to take the blood pressure-lowering medicines for an average of 4.3 years in order to prevent one stroke in the study population.
This clearly contradicted to the American Heart Association’s guidelines, which recommend lifestyle change instead of taking medications for people with prehypertension to lower their blood pressure. The suggested changes in lifestyle include weight loss, physical activity, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and low in salt and fat, and keeping alcohol consumption moderate (no more than 2 drinks for men and no more than 1 drink for women per day).
Though the researchers did not insist that people with prehypertension should take medicines instead of carrying out lifestyle changes, they stressed that taking blood pressure medicines can somewhat complement the lifestyle changes, as shown in their findings. Nevertheless, they urged medical community to discuss extensively about the cost of long-term therapy and the risks of taking blood pressure medicines before changing the guidelines.