Monday, April 28, 2014

Walk More To Cut Stroke Risk!

Stroke is a major cause of death and disability. Finding ways to prevent it, especially in older people who are at high stroke risk, is very important. In fact, up to 80 percent of all strokes could be prevented.

Choosing a healthy lifestyle is perhaps the best way to prevent stroke. It includes eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough exercise, not smoking and limiting alcohol use.

There is no doubt that physical activity can help one maintain a healthy weight and lower his or her cholesterol and blood pressure levels. For adults, 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking or bicycling is required every week. But for older folks, it seems that walking might be the only option as many are not capable of having intense exercise. 

A recent study published online November 14, 2013 in journal ‘Stroke’ reported that older men who spend several hours walking each day, irrespectively of pace, are less likely to have a stroke than those who rarely walk.

Researchers from University College of London and St George's University of London followed 3,435 ambulatory men, who aged between 60 and 70 and were free from heart disease and stroke between 1998 and 2000, for 11 years. These men reported usual physical activity (regular walking, cycling, recreational activity, and sport) in 1998 until 2000, and the nurses took fasting blood samples and made comparative measurements of the body.

The participants were divided into 5 groups according to how long they walked: 0 to 3 hours, 4 to 7 hours, 8 to 14 hours, 15 to 21 hours, and more than 22 hours a week. Overall, 42 percent of men walked for more than 8 hours a week, and 9 percent walked more than 22 hours a week.

During the follow-up period of 11 years, 195 first strokes occurred. Stroke risk of men who walked 8 to 14 hours a week was reduced by approximately one-third when compared to men who walked 0 to 3 hours a week. Those who walked more than 22 hours a week reduced their stroke risk by about two-thirds.

Compared to men who walked at a slower pace, men who walked faster had a one-third reduction in stroke risk. This was, however, attributed to the fact that they walked for a longer distance than the men who walked slower.

While the findings did not prove walking prevents strokes, they did suggest that maintaining an active lifestyle, specifically by walking, could be an important part of stroke prevention strategies in older people.

As suggested by the researchers, walking for leisure in a park or just walking around indoors at least 1 hour a day could protect against stroke.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cold Weather Might Help Losing Weight!

Piling evidence has shown that overweight and obese can lead to a number of chronic diseases including Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and even certain types of cancer. There is no doubt that the public is aware of the consequence of being fat, most people still find it hard to maintain a healthy weight because of the inability to get rid of the unhealthy lifestyle. 

Only when the weight gain causes the health indicators to show red, people will realize that they should try to shed the extra weight. Then, they will start to exercise more and pay attention to their diet. Some will even approach weight-loss professionals for help.

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that shivering might be as good as exercise to help people reduce weight. Their findings were published in the February 2014’s issue of ‘Cell Metabolism’.

Hormone irisin from the muscles and hormone FGF21 from the brown fat stores will be released when people feel cold and start shivering. These same hormones are released during moderate levels of exercise, too.

Unlike white fat, brown fat produces heat and burns calories instead of storing them. 50 grams of white fat could hold more than 300 calories, while 50 grams of brown fat are able to burn up to 300 calories per day.

When placing in the presence of white fat, these 2 hormones could convert the storage fat into the healthier brown fat. This means shaking from the cold or going for an exercise could create similar fat-burning opportunities.

People are born with brown fat around the necks to help stay warm as babies. It was thought that this brown baby fat is lost while growing up. But scientists now realize that the brown fat is kept through adulthood. As shown by studies, adults with higher levels of brown fat tend to be skinnier than those with lower levels.

10 healthy volunteers were recruited in the study. The participants were first asked to exercise at maximal aerobic capacity on a stationary bike. Later on, they were put under cooling blankets set to slightly more than 53 degrees Fahrenheit (closed to 12 degrees Celsius) in order to induce shivering. It was found that irisin levels produced through exercise were comparable to shivering.

The researchers did not suggest that thin clothes should be wore when the weather out there is 12 degree Celsius just to burn more energy. While exercise is as important as weight loss, not many people can lose weight just through exercise. But if scientists can find a way to raise brown fat, many people can benefit. It is their hope that their findings might eventually lead to development of some kind of medication that can promote production of irisin.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cut Sugar Intake To Half For Better Health!

According to a study published in January 2014 in the ‘Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine’, consuming too much sugar could significantly raise the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke).

The study found that people who took in between 17 and 21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38 percent high risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed 8 percent of their calories from added sugar. The risk was more than double for those who consumed 21 percent or more of their calories from added sugar.

Does this means sugar is something bad for the health? This is not entirely true. Human body needs sugar to function. Naturally occurring sugar that is found in some fruits, vegetables and milks is basically healthy. It is the added sugar that is bad for the body.

Sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed are called added sugar. Sugar-sweetened drinks, fruit drinks, candy, cakes and grain-based desserts are some that contain added sugar. As added sugars are high in energy, they have been accused of contributing to obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol.

On March 5, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that the daily sugar intake should be just 5 percent of the total calories intake, equivalent to around 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of sugar for an adult of normal BMI (body mass index). The new guideline is only half of what WHO had recommended more than a decade ago (since 2002).

New guideline was formulated based on a review of about 9,000 studies on the consumption of sugars and how that relates to excess weight gain and tooth decay in adults and children.

There is no doubt that Americans and people in the West are consuming too much sugar. For instance, most American adults consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugar, which is closed to 400 calories, a day. This is about 4 times of the recommended amount, meaning their average sugar intake should drop by at two-third to meet the new WHO’s suggested limit.

It is hoped that the WHO’s new guidelines would force the food manufacturers to rethink how they are using sugar in processed foods like bread, soups, pasta sauces and even salad dressings.

So far, there is no universally agreed consensus on how much sugar should be consumed. For instance, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends sugar intake should be limited to about 8 percent of the diet: men and women should not consume more than 150 (9 teaspoons) and 100 (6 teaspoons) calories respectively a day.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Cardiovascular Risk Increases After Losing Loved One!

When someone who is loved passed away, the survivors would be grieved over his or her death. They might have loss of sleep and appetite over a period of time. All this could have aggravated existing underlying medical conditions.

A study of old folks revealed that the risk of heart attack was double in the 30 days following the loss of a partner, and stroke risk rose 2.4 times over that of similarly aged people who had not sustained a loss. The findings were published online February 24, 2014 in the ‘Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine’.

After comparing 30,447 bereaved patients to 83,588 who were matched in age and gender but had not lost a partner, the British researchers from St George’s University of London and Brunel University found that the risk of heart attack and stroke was highest in the month after the loss and the risk declined slowly over the following year.

The participants, who aged between 60 and 89, were taken from a United Kingdom primary care database containing available data of 401 general practices from February 2005 through September 2012.

As a matter of fact, evidence from other studies have already shown that bereavement and grief could lead to a range of adverse physiological responses, including changes in blood clotting, blood pressure, stress hormone levels and heart rate control. All these would possibly contribute to a higher risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke after loss of a partner.

While the actual reasons have yet to be determined, there are some explanations available. For instance, some studies have indicated that intense stress could activate the ‘fight or flight’ response that could trigger a surge of epinephrine, adrenaline and cortisol. When at low and medium doses, these hormones are good because they cause the heart pump harder and faster. People might need this in many situations, for instance, when they are doing exercise. But in some people, very high doses of adrenaline have a toxic effect on the heart.

In addition, people’s daily schedules could be interrupted, for example, they might forget to take their medications, stop eating right or do some harmful things like drinking or eating too much. Changes like these could undoubtedly raise the risk of heart attack.

Hence, it is important that doctors, friends and family members are aware of this increased risk so that they can make sure that care and support is as good as possible, especially in the first month following bereavement when stress levels are particularly high.

Meanwhile, the survivors should look after themselves and if they are having trouble coping, they should seek help from their doctors who will be able to advise on any health issues or offer any further support that they might need.