Category Archives: Heart Disease

What’s the Best Blood Pressure Goal If You Have Hypertension?

Not bad

I’m not formally questioning the guidelines of established authoritative bodies, but just maybe they’re too high. The 2017 guideline from the American College of Cardiology recommended a treatment goal of under 130/80. Reduction of cognitive impairment is only one of many considerations in setting a treatment goal.

Aiming for systolic blood pressure of 120 or less (instead of 140) may reduce the risk of age-related brain impairment. A recent study suggests the mechanism is better brain blood flow.

Ischemia means poor or no blood flow.

Small vessel ischemic disease (SVID in the brain) is something I see so often in 70-year-olds that I usually ignore it. Mind you, I’m a hospitalist and usually looking for acute major strokes, brain tumors, and bleeding on CT scans. SVID is a chronic disease and it’s often difficult to say how long a specific lesion has been present and whether it’s causing symptoms. Ischemia in the brain is linked to impaired cognitive functioning and dementia. On the other hand, some brain ischemic lesions don’t seem to cause any detectable impairment.

From JAMA Network:

Question:  Is intensive blood pressure treatment associated with less progression of small vessel ischemic disease, as reflected by cerebral white matter lesion volume?

Findings:  In this substudy of a randomized clinical trial of 449 hypertensive patients with longitudinal brain magnetic resonance imaging, intensive blood pressure management to a target of less than 120 mm Hg, vs less than 140 mm Hg, was associated with a smaller increase in white matter lesion volume (0.92 cm3 vs 1.45 cm3).

Meaning:  More intensive blood pressure management was associated with less progression of cerebral small vessel ischemic disease, although the difference was small.

Source: Association of Intensive vs Standard Blood Pressure Control With Cerebral White Matter Lesions | Dementia and Cognitive Impairment | JAMA | JAMA Network

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: The Mediterranean diet also reduces dementia and cognitive impairment.

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Is Weight Training Better Than Aerobics for Heart Health?

One…..more…..rep!

“Lifting weights is healthier for the heart than going for a run or a walk, new research has found. Scientists looking at the health records of more than 4,000 people have concluded that, while both forms of exercise reduce the risk of developing heart disease, static activities such as weight lifting or press-ups [push-ups] have a greater effect than an equivalent amount of dynamic exercise such as running, walking or cycling.

The research challenges commonly held assumption that so-called “cardiovascular” pursuits like running are of greatest benefit to the heart.”

Source: Weight lifting better for heart health than running, new study finds

I like these findings, but wonder if they can be replicated.

Steve Parker, M.D.

low-carb mediterranean diet

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New Systematic Review Concludes Omega-3 Fatty Acids Have NO EFFECT On Cardiovascular Disease and Longevity

Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes, Steve Parker MD

Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids

That headline is the conclusion of a Cochrane systematic review of the evidence. As you read the summary below, be aware that the main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-lenolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

From Cochrane Library:

Increasing EPA and DHA has little or no effect on all‐cause deaths and cardiovascular events (high‐quality evidence) and probably makes little or no difference to cardiovascular death, coronary deaths or events, stroke, or heart irregularities (moderate‐quality evidence, coronary events are illnesses of the arteries which supply the heart). EPA and DHA slightly reduce serum triglycerides and raise HDL (high‐quality evidence).

Eating more ALA (for example, by increasing walnuts or enriched margarine) probably makes little or no difference to all‐cause or cardiovascular deaths or coronary events but probably slightly reduce cardiovascular events, coronary mortality and heart irregularities (moderate/low‐quality evidence). Effects of ALA on stroke are unclear as the evidence was of very low quality.

There is evidence that taking omega‐3 capsules does not reduce heart disease, stroke or death. There is little evidence of effects of eating fish. Although EPA and DHA reduce triglycerides, supplementary omega‐3 fats are probably not useful for preventing or treating heart and circulatory diseases. However, increasing plant‐based ALA may be slightly protective for some heart and circulatory diseases.

Source: Omega‐3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease – Abdelhamid, AS – 2018 | Cochrane Library

These findings are contrary to my views. I’m not sure who’s right. I still aim for cold-water fatty fish consumption twice a week.

Steve Parker M.D.

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Have I Been Wrong About the Mediterranean Diet for the Last 12 years?

Bastian is also skeptical about the health benefits of judicious alcohol consumption. Fair enough.

Hilda Bastian at PLOS Blogs wrote about the recent retraction of a PREDIMED sub-study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013. The suspect conclusion of that study was: “Among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events.”

From Ms Bastian:

A very influential nutrition trial just tanked. It was retracted from the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on 13 June, and re-published with new analyses and toned-down conclusions. Both Gina Kolata, writing in the New York Times, and Alison McCook, writing at NPR, imply, at least to some extent, that it might make no difference to the evidence. But I disagree.

Here’s what’s happened to the trial, and where I think it leaves the overall evidence. Called PREDIMED, it was a multi-center trial from Spain, with the NEJM final report published in 2013. Altogether, 7,447 people at risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) – heart attack and stroke – were reported as randomized to one of 3 groups:

  • Mediterranean diet with free olive oil provided, along with individual and group training sessions at the start, and then quarterly;
  • Mediterranean diet with free nuts provided, along with individual and group training sessions at the start, and then quarterly;
  • Advice to reduce fat intake, with a leaflet – but after the first 3 years, people in this control group were also offered individual and group training sessions.

The primary endpoint for the trial was a composite one of major cardiovascular events: myocardial infarction, stroke, or CVD-related death. And the trial was stopped early. More people dropped out of the control group than the Mediterranean diet groups.There are several alarm bells here already, and we’ll come back to those.

Source: What Does the PREDIMED Trial Retraction & Reboot Mean for the Mediterranean Diet? | Absolutely Maybe

I encourage you to read Ms Bastian’s article if you enjoy such debates. I consider the 2013 PREDIMED sub-study to be one of numerous pieces of the nutritional puzzle.

I published the 2nd edition of my Advanced Mediterranean Diet in 2012, so the 2013 PREDIMED sub-study was not available to me. At the end of my book you’ll find not one, but 43 scientific references supporting the healthfulness of the Mediterranean diet.

Steve Parker MD, Advanced Mediterranean Diet

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My Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes book was also based predominantly on those 43 studies.

low-carb mediterranean diet

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Steve Parker, M.D.

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Are Drugs the Answer to Unhealthy Lifestyles?

paleobetic diet, low-carb diet, diabetic diet

“This is much easier than exercising and losing 30 pounds!”

Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, has a heretical short article at BMJ. I recommend you read the whole thing. It starts thusly:

More than half of adults aged over 45 will be labelled as hypertensive if new US guidelines are adopted, concludes a study in The BMJ this week (doi:10.1136/bmj.k2357). This equates to 70 million people in the US and 267 million people in China being eligible for antihypertensive drugs, a marked increase on already high rates of drug treatment for high blood pressure. Furthermore, the study calculates that 7.5 million people in the US and 55 million in China would be advised to start drug treatment, while 14 million in the US and 30 million in China would be advised to receive more intensive treatment. The evidence from trials indicates some benefit from drugs in terms of reduced risk of stroke and heart disease, but is mass medication really what we want?

Hypertension is just one of the many heads of the lifestyle disease hydra. Another is type 2 diabetes. Once thought to be irreversible and progressive, it is now known to be potentially reversible through weight loss. This is the cautious conclusion of the review by Nita Forouhi and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.k2234), part of our series on the science and politics of nutrition (bmj.com/food-for-thought). Whether by calorie or carbohydrate restriction, weight loss has been shown to improve glycaemic control, blood pressure, and lipid profile and is the key to treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes, they say.

She goes on to talk about fatty liver disease (NASH) and offers an alternative, of sorts, to pills. Good luck with that.

Source: Pills are not the answer to unhealthy lifestyles | The BMJ

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Should You Restrict Sodium Intake?

I’m still not convinced that severe sodium restriction is necessary or even possible for most people

U.S public health authorities recommend maximum daily sodium consumption of 2.3 grams a day, in order to prevent cardiovascular disease. But a 2018 multi-country study published in Lancet supports a much different and higher maximum sodium intake level:

Sodium intake was associated with cardiovascular disease and strokes only in communities where mean intake was greater than 5 g/day. A strategy of sodium reduction in these communities and countries but not in others might be appropriate.

The researchers also found, “All major cardiovascular outcomes decreased with increasing potassium intake in all countries.”

Click for a list of potassium-rich foods from a .gov website.

You’ll find several cold-water fatty fish there.

My Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet recommends the fish but you’ll find no sodium restriction advice.

Source: Urinary sodium excretion, blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and mortality: a community-level prospective epidemiological cohort study – The Lancet

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Front cover of book

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Seafood Contaminates Your Brain With Mercury, But Does It Matter?

Dead whole fish aren't very appealing to many folks

Dead whole fish aren’t very appealing to many folks

I advocate consumption of cold-water fatty fish a couple times per week for long-term protection against heart and brain disease. The protective component of fish may be the omega-3 fatty acids.

On the other hand, much seafood is contaminated with mercury, which can be toxic. So, is the mercury in fish actually toxic to brain tissue of folks eating reasonable amounts of fish?

A recent autopsy study answers, “No.”

Read further for details.

Much more appetizing!

From the Journal of the American Medical Association, 2016 Feb 2;315(5):489-97. doi: 10.1001/jama.2015.19451. “Association of Seafood Consumption, Brain Mercury Level, and APOE ε4 Status With Brain Neuropathology in Older Adults.”

IMPORTANCE:Seafood consumption is promoted for its many health benefits even though its contamination by mercury, a known neurotoxin, is a growing concern.

OBJECTIVE:To determine whether seafood consumption is correlated with increased brain mercury levels and also whether seafood consumption or brain mercury levels are correlated with brain neuropathologies.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS:Cross-sectional analyses of deceased participants in the Memory and Aging Project clinical neuropathological cohort study, 2004-2013. Participants resided in Chicago retirement communities and subsidized housing. The study included 286 autopsied brains of 554 deceased participants (51.6%). The mean (SD) age at death was 89.9 (6.1) years, 67% (193) were women, and the mean (SD) educational attainment was 14.6 (2.7) years.

EXPOSURES:Seafood intake was first measured by a food frequency questionnaire at a mean of 4.5 years before death.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES:Dementia-related pathologies assessed were Alzheimer disease, Lewy bodies, and the number of macroinfarcts and microinfarcts. Dietary consumption of seafood and n-3 fatty acids was annually assessed by a food frequency questionnaire in the years before death. Tissue concentrations of mercury and selenium were measured using instrumental neutron activation analyses.RESULTS:Among the 286 autopsied brains of 544 participants, brain mercury levels were positively correlated with the number of seafood meals consumed per week (ρ = 0.16; P = .02). In models adjusted for age, sex, education, and total energy intake, seafood consumption (≥ 1 meal[s]/week) was significantly correlated with less Alzheimer disease pathology including lower density of neuritic plaques (β = -0.69 score units [95% CI, -1.34 to -0.04]), less severe and widespread neurofibrillary tangles (β = -0.77 score units [95% CI, -1.52 to -0.02]), and lower neuropathologically defined Alzheimer disease (β = -0.53 score units [95% CI, -0.96 to -0.10]) but only among apolipoprotein E (APOE ε4) carriers. Higher intake levels of α-linolenic acid (18:3 n-3) were correlated with lower odds of cerebral macroinfarctions (odds ratio for tertiles 3 vs 1, 0.51 [95% CI, 0.27 to 0.94]). Fish oil supplementation had no statistically significant correlation with any neuropathologic marker. Higher brain concentrations of mercury were not significantly correlated with increased levels of brain neuropathology.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE:In cross-sectional analyses, moderate seafood consumption was correlated with lesser Alzheimer disease neuropathology. Although seafood consumption was also correlated with higher brain levels of mercury, these levels were not correlated with brain neuropathology.

Source: Association of Seafood Consumption, Brain Mercury Level, and APOE ε4 Status With Brain Neuropathology in Older Adults. – PubMed – NCBI

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