Tag Archives: wine

Is It Time to Freak-Out About Arsenic In Wine?

Is the arsenic in the irrigation water, pesticides, or introduced during processsing?

Is the arsenic in the irrigation water, pesticides, or introduced during processsing?

A class-action lawsuit in California claims that certain wines have dangerously high levels of arsenic that could cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. USA Today has one of the ubiquitous stories outlining the few details we know at this point.

Furthermore, chronic low-dose arsenic exposure can cause skin changes (e.g., scaly thick skin, darkening, lightening), peripheral neuropathy (numbness, pain, weakness, typically starting in the feet, then hands), peripheral vascular disease, and liver disease. The cancers linked to arsenic are mostly skin, bladder, lung, and liver. The increased cancer risk persists even after the end of exposure.

How Do You Know If You’ve Been Poisoned With Arsenic?

Comments here refer to chronic low-dose exposure; acute high dose poisoning is another can o’ worms.

First, see your doctor for a history and physical exam and let her know you’re worried about arsenic. If arsenic poisoning remains a possibility, lab testing is usually a 24-hour urine collection for arsenic, or spot urine for arsenic and creatinine. “Spot” in this context means a random single specimen, not a 24-hour collection. For the 48 to 72 hours before either of those tests, don’t eat fish, seaweed, or shellfish.

What about testing hair for arsenic? In general, it’s not accurate.

Bottom Line

At this point, if you or someone you love drinks wine, I suggest simply keeping an eye on this story as it develops. We need more facts. The whole thing could blow over, with nothing coming of it. One of the brands mentioned is Sutter Home, one of my favorites.

Remember a few years ago when we had the vapors over arsenic in rice?

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: Wine is a time-honored component of the traditional Mediterranean diet, but see my books for alternatives to wine. You don’t have to drink wine to live long and prosper.

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Meal Plans For “Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes”

For both types 1 and type 2 diabetes, carbohydrate restriction is a great way to help control blood sugars and minimize the toxicity and expense of drug therapy. Here are some low-carb recipes from my book, Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes. You can also easily incorporate them into a ketogenic diet.

Breakfast:  Chicken Salad Over Greens

1 large egg (50 g)

5-oz can (150 g) of cooked chicken (drain and discard liquid)

½ oz (14 g) onion (2 tbsp or 30 ml), diced

½ stick (40 g) of celery, diced

2 tbsp (30 ml) Miracle Whip Salad Dressing or regular mayonnaise (not low-fat)

salt and pepper

2 oz (60 g) romaine lettuce

2 oz (60 g) raw baby spinach

dash of lemon or lime juice (optional)

1 oz (28 g) walnuts

Hard-boil the large egg, then peel and dice. Place the chicken into a bowl then add the egg, diced onion, diced celery, and the Miracle Whip Salad Dressing. Mix all together, with salt and pepper and/or a dash of lemon or lime juice to taste. Place on bed of romaine lettuce and fresh baby spinach. Enjoy walnuts around mealtime or later as a snack. Digestible carb grams: 11.

Lunch:  Kippered Herring and Cheese

3.5 oz (100 g) canned herring

3 oz (80 g) cheese

Digestible carb grams: 2.

Dinner: Hamburger and Salad

8 oz (225 g) raw hamburger meat

1 oz (28 g) onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp (15 ml) A.1. Steak Sauce or Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper

3 oz (85 g) lettuce

3 oz (85 g) tomato, cut into chunks

2 oz (60 g) cucumber, peeled and sliced

1.5 tbsp (22 ml) olive oil

½ tbsp (7 ml) vinegar

To the raw hamburger meat, add the chopped onion, A.1. Steak Sauce or Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend thoroughly with your hands. (No particular need for lean hamburger; it’s your choice.) Cook in pan over medium heat. While cooking, prepare your salad.

In a bowl, place the lettuce, tomato chunks, sliced cucumber, and finally, the olive oil and vinegar. Mix salad thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy with 6 oz of red wine. Digestible carb grams: 13.

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Wine May Ward Off Depression

…according to an article in The Guardian. This finding is from the PREDIMED study of Spaniards aged 50 to 88. Those who drank between two and seven glasses of wine per week were less prone to develop depression.

She looks happy!

She looks happy!

Wine is allowed on my Advanced Mediterranean Diet, Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes plan, and the Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet. Of course, some folks should never drink alcohol.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Experts Debate Composition of the Mediterranean Diet

…but they have some good ideas as to the healthy components, according to a report in MedPageToday. A sample:

Through a subtractive statistical technique, the EPIC investigators calculated that the biggest chunk of the health advantage—24%—came from moderate alcohol consumption (predominantly wine).

The other relative contributions were:

  • 17% from low consumption of meat and meat products
  • 16% from high vegetable consumption
  • 11% from high fruit and nut consumption
  • 11% from high monounsaturated-to-saturated lipid ratio (largely due to olive oil consumption)
  • 10% from high legume consumption

Here’s my definition of the Mediterranean diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:
Sofi F, et al “Ideal consumption for each food group composing Mediterranean diet score for preventing total and cardiovascular mortality” EuroPRevent 2013; Abstract P106.

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Is Grape Seed Extract as Healthful as Wine?

Patients ask me periodically if grape seed extract provides the same health benefit as judicious red wine.  Nobody knows with certainty.  The health benefits of red wine may be due to resveratrol.  Grape seed extract contains potentially healthy antioxidants called proanthocyanidins,

Many people don’t enjoy wine or other alcohol-containing drinks, and others just shouldn’t drink any alcohol.  Should they take a grape seed extract supplement or drink grape juice as a subsitute?  Again, it’s still unclear.  In 2009 I wrote a about a review article looking at the effect of various non-wine grape products and effects on heart disease risk.

A recent meta-analysis out of the University of Connecticut found improvement in two heart disease risk factors in those who take a grape seed extract supplement:

  • systolic blood pressure lower by 1.54 mmHg
  • heart rate lower by 1.42 beats per minute

No effect was seen on lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), diastolic blood pressure, and C-reactive protein (a test of systemic inflammation).

Granted, these are tiny effects.  It’s unknown whether they, or other unknown effects of grape seed extract, would translate into clinical benefits such as fewer heart attacks and strokes, and longer lifespans.

Bottom Line

Grape seed extract and other non-wine grape products may be as beneficial as red wine in prolonging lifespan and preventing heart disease.  But we have much stronger evidence in favor of red wine and other alcohol-containing drinks.

Steve Parker, M.D.

 Reference:  Feringa, H.H.H, et al. The Effect of Grape Seed Extract on Cardiovascular Risk Markers: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled TrialsJournal of the American Dietetic Association, 111 (2011): 1,173-1,181.

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WHY Is the Mediterranean Diet So Healthy?

I’ve found that nearly everbody’s eyes glaze over if I try to explain how, physiologically, the Mediterranean diet promotes health and longevity.  Below are some of the boring details, for posterity’s sake, mostly from my 2007 book, The Advanced Mediterranean Diet: Lose Weight, Feel Better, Live Longer.

Many of the nutrient-disease associations I mention below are just that: associations, linkages, not hard proof of a benefit.  Available studies are often contradictory.  For instance, there may be 10 observational studies linking whole grain consumption with reduced deaths from heart disease, while three other studies find no association, or even suggest  higher death rates. (I’m making these numbers up.)  If you want hard proof, you’ll have to wait.  A long time.  Such is nutrition science.  Take it all with a grain of salt. 

Also note that the studies supporting my claims below are nearly all done in non-diabetic populations.

Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is the No.1 cause of death in the world. It’s responsible for 40% of deaths in the United States and other industrialized Western countries. The Mediterranean diet is particularly suited to mitigating the ravages of coronary heart disease. Mediterranean diet cardiac benefits may be related to its high content of monounsaturated fat (in olive oil), folate, and antioxidants.

The predominant source of fat in the traditional Mediterranean diet is olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. High intake of olive oil reduces blood levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. HDL or “good” cho-lesterol is unaffected. Olive oil tends to lower blood pressure in hypertensive people. Monounsaturated fatty acids reduce cardiovascular risk substantially, particularly when they replace simple sugars and easily digestible starches. Monounsaturated fatty acids and olive oil may also reduce breast cancer risk. The cardioprotective (good for the heart) and cancer-reducing effects of olive oil may be partially explained by the oil’s polyphenolic compounds.
    
Nuts are another good source of monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids, including some omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Nuts have been proven to be cardioprotective. They lower LDL and total cholesterol levels, while providing substantial fiber and numerous micronutrients, such as vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and folic acid. Compared with those who never or rarely eat nuts, people who eat nuts five or more times per week have 30 to 50% less risk of a fatal heart attack. Lesser amounts of nuts are also cardioprotective, perhaps by reducing lethal heart rhythm dis-turbances. 
    
Another key component of the Mediterranean diet is fish. Fish are excellent sources of protein and are low in cholesterol. Fatty, cold-water fish are particularly good for us because of their omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanaenoic acid (DHA). The other important omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), available in certain plants. Our bodies can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but not very efficiently. Fish oil supplements, which are rich in EPA, lead to lower total cholesterol and triglyce-ride levels. Fish oil supplements have several properties that fight atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). In people who have already had a heart attack, the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have proven to dramatically reduce cardiac deaths, especially sudden death, and nonfatal heart attacks. So omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are “cardioprotective.”

The first sign of underlying coronary heart disease in many people is simply sudden death from a heart attack (myocardial infarction) or heart rhythm disturbance. These unfortunate souls had hearts that were ticking time bombs. I have little doubt that a significant number of such deaths can be prevented by adequate intake of cold-water fatty fish. As a substitute for fish, fish oil supplements might be just at beneficial. The American Heart Association also recommends fish twice weekly for the general population, or fish oil supplements if whole fish isn’t feasible. Compared with fish oil capsules, whole fish are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and protein. The richest fish sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are albacore (white) tuna, salmon, sar-dines, trout, sea bass, sword-fish, herring, mackerel, anchovy, halibut, and pompano.
    
Cardioprotective omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (mainly ALA) are also provided by plants, such as nuts and seeds, legumes, and vegetables. Rich sources of ALA include walnuts, butternuts, soy-beans, flaxseed, almonds, leeks, purslane, pinto beans, and wheat germ. Purslane is also one of the few plant sources of EPA. Several oils are also very high in ALA: flaxseed, canola, and soybean. Look for them in salad dressings, or try cooking with them.

Macular Degeneration

Omega-3 fatty acid and fish consumption may also be “eye-protective.” Eating fish one to three times per week apparently helps prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people over 50 in the United States. While AMD has a significant hereditary component, onset and progression of AMD are affected by diet and lifestyle choices. For instance, smoking cigarettes definitely increases your risk of developing AMD. Other foods associated with lower risk of AMD are dark green leafy vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits: spinach, kale, collard greens, yellow corn, broccoli, sweet potatoes, squash, orange bell peppers, oranges, mangoes, apricots, peaches, honeydew melon, and papaya. Two unifying phytochemicals in this food list are lutein and zeaxanthin, which are also found in red grapes, kiwi fruit, lima beans, green beans, and green bell peppers. Increasing your intake of these foods as part of the Advanced Mediterranean Diet may well help preserve your vision as you age.      
    
Alzheimer’s Dementia
    
Another exciting potential benefit of fish consumption is prevention or delay of Alzheimer’s dementia. Several recent epidemiologic studies have suggested that intake of fish once or twice per week significantly reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. Types of fish eaten were not specified. No one knows if fish oil capsules are equivalent. For now, I’m sticking with fatty cold-water fish, which I call my “brain food.”
    
Vitamin E supplements may slow the progression of established Alzheimer’s disease; clinical studies show either modest slowing of progression or no benefit. As a way to prevent Alzheimer’s, however, vitamin E supplements have been disappointing. On the other hand, high dietary vitamin E is associated with reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Good sources of vitamin E include vegetable oils (especially sunflower and soybean), sunflower seeds, nuts, shrimp, fruits, and certain vegetables: sweet potatoes, asparagus, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, okra, green peas, sweet peppers, spinach, and tomatoes. All of these are on your new diet. 

Wine

For centuries, the healthier populations in the Mediterranean region have enjoyed wine in light to moderate amounts, usually with meals. Epidemiologic studies there and in other parts of the world have associated reasonable alcohol consumption with prolonged lifespan, reduced coronary artery disease, diminished Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and possibly fewer strokes. Alcohol tends to increase HDL cholesterol, have an antiplatelet effect, and may reduce C-reactive protein, a marker of arterial inflammation. These effects would tend to reduce cardiovascular disease. Wine taken with meals provides antioxidant phytochemicals (polyphenols, procyanidins) which may protect against atherosclerosis and some cancers. 

What’s a “reasonable” amount of alcohol? An old medical school joke is that a “heavy drinker” is anyone who drinks more than the doctor does. Light to moderate alcohol consumption is generally consi-dered to be one or fewer drinks per day for a woman, two or fewer drinks per day for a man. One drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (e.g., vodka, whiskey, gin). The optimal health-promoting type of alcohol is unclear. I tend to favor wine, a time-honored component of the Mediterranean diet. Red wine in particular is a rich source of resveratrol, which is thought to be a major contributor to the cardioprotective benefits associated with light to moderate alcohol consumption. Grape juice may be just as good—it’s too soon to tell.
    
I have no intention of overselling the benefits of alcohol. If you are considering habitual alcohol as a food, be aware that the health benefits are still somewhat debatable. Consumption of three or more alcoholic drinks per day is clearly associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women. Even one or two drinks daily may slightly increase the risk. Folic acid supplementation might mitigate the risk. If you are a woman and breast cancer runs in your family, strongly consider abstinence. Be cautious if there are alcoholics in your family; you may have inherited the predisposition. If you take any medications or have chronic medical conditions, check with your personal physician first. For those drinking above light to mod-erate levels, alcohol is clearly perilous. Higher dosages can cause hypertension, liver disease, heart failure, certain cancers, and other medical problems. And psychosocial problems. And legal problems. And death. Heavy drinkers have higher rates of violent and accidental death. Alcoholism is often fatal. You should not drink alcohol if you:
            ■  have a history of alcohol abuse
                or alcoholism
            ■  have liver or pancreas disease
            ■  are pregnant or trying to become
                pregnant
            ■  may have the need to operate
                dangerous equipment or machinery,
                such as an automobile, while under
                the influence of alcohol
            ■  have a demonstrated inability to
                limit yourself to acceptable
                intake levels
            ■  have personal prohibitions due
                to religious, ethical, or other
                reasons. 
    
Cancer

Do you ever worry about cancer? You should. It’s the second leading cause of death. Over 500,000 people die from cancer each year in the United States. One third of people in the United States will develop cancer. Twenty percent of us will die from cancer. About half the deaths are from cancer of the lung, breast, and colon/rectum. Are you worried yet?

According to the American Cancer Society, one third of all cancer deaths can be attributed to diet and inadequate physical activity. So we have some control over our risk of developing cancer. High consumption of fruits and vegetables seems to protect against cancer of the lung, stomach, colon, rectum, oral cavity, and esophagus, although other studies dispute the protective linkage. Data on other cancers is limited or inconsistent. If you typically eat little or no fruits and vegetables, you can start today to cut your cancer risk by up to one half. Five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day seems to be the protective dose against cancer. Make it a life-long habit. The benefits accrue over time. Fruits and vegetables contain numerous phytochemicals thought to improve or maintain health, such as carotenoids (e.g., lycopene), lignans, phytosterols, sulfides, isothyocyanates, phenolic compounds (includ-ing flavonoids, resveratrol, phytoestrogens, anthocyanins, and tannins), protease inhibitors, capsaicin, vitamins, and minerals. 
   
In addition to cancer prevention properties, fruits and vegetables provide fiber, which is the part of plants resistant to digestion by our enzymes. The other source of fiber is grain products, especially whole grains. Liberal intake of fiber helps prevent constipation, diverticular disease, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, and perhaps colon polyps. Soluble fiber helps control blood sugar levels in diabetics. It also reduces LDL cholesterol levels, thereby reducing risks of coronary heart disease. Whether or not related to fiber, high fruit and vegetable intake may reduce the risks of coronary heart disease and stroke. Legume consumption in particular has been associated with a 10 to 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease, with the effective dose being around four servings per week. 

Fiber and Whole Grains

Processed, refined grain products have much less fiber than do whole grains. For instance, white all-purpose enriched flour has only about one fourth the fiber of whole wheat flour. The milling process removes the bran, germ, and husk (chaff), leaving only the endosperm as the refined product, flour. Endosperm is mostly starch and 10–15% protein. Many nutrients are lost during processing. The germ is particularly rich in vitamins (especially B vitamins), polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, trace minerals, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals protect us against certain chronic diseases. Bran is high in fiber and nutrients: B vitamins, iron, magnesium, copper, and zinc, to name a few. Enriched grain products are refined grains that have had some, but certainly not all, nutrients added back, typically iron, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folate. Why not just eat the whole grain? Whole grain products retain nearly all the nutrients found in the original grain. Hence, they are more nutritious than refined and enriched grain products.
    
Liberal intake of high-fiber whole grain foods, as contrasted with refined grains, is linked to lower risk of death and lower incidence of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus. For existing diabetics, whole grain consumption can help im-prove blood sugar levels. Three servings of whole grains per day cut the risk of coronary heart disease by about 25 percent compared with those who rarely eat whole grains. Regular consumption of whole grains may also substantially reduce the risk of sev-eral forms of cancer.

Average adult fiber intake in the United States is 12 to 15 grams daily. Expert nutrition panels and the American Heart Association recommend 25 to 30 grams daily from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet likely spring from synergy among multiple Mediteranean diet components, rather than from a single food group or one or a few food items. 

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Alcohol Habit (Especially Wine) Started in Middle-Age Reduces Heart Attack and Stroke

Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding.  His mother asked him to do it.  Of all the miracles he performed and could have performed, I wonder why this is the first one recorded in the Holy Bible.

We have known for years that low or moderate alcohol consumption tends to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke, and prolongs life span.  Physicians have been hesitant to suggest that nondrinkers take up the habit.  We don’t want to be responsible for, or even accused of, turning someone into an alcoholic.  We don’t want to be held accountable for someone else’s drunken acts.  Every well-trained physician is quite aware of the ravages of alcohol use and abuse.  We see them up close and personal in our patients.

A scientific study published in 2008, however, lends support to a middle-aged individual’s decision to start consuming moderate amounts of alcohol on a regular basis.  It even provides a positive defense if a doctor recommends it to carefully selected patients.

This research, by the way, was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, not the wine/alcohol industry.

Methodology

Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina examined data on 15,637 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study over a 10-year period.  These men and women were 45 to 64 years old at the time of enrollment, living in four communities across the U.S.  Of the participants, 27% were black, 73% nonblack, 28% were smokers, and 80% of them had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

Out of 15,637 participants at the time of enrollment, 7,359 indicated that they didn’t drink alcohol.  At baseline, these 7,359 had no cardiovascular disease except for some with high blood pressure.    Subsequent interviews with them found that six percent of the nondrinkers – 442 people – decided independently to become moderate alcohol drinkers.  Or at least they identified themselves as such.

“Moderate” intake was defined as 1-14 drinks per week for men, and 1-7 drinks a week for women.  Incidentally, 0.4% of the initial non-drinking cohort – 21 people – became self-identified heavy drinkers.

93.6% of the 7,359 non-drinkers said that they continued to be non-drinkers.  These 6,917 people are the “persistent nondrinkers.”

Type of alcohol consumed was also surveyed and broken down into 1) wine-only drinkers, or 2) mixed drinkers: beer, liquor, wine.

Researchers then monitored health outcomes for an average of 4 years, comparing the “new moderate drinkers” with the “persistent nondrinkers.”

Results

  •  Over 4 years, 6.9% of the new moderate drinkers suffered a cardiovascular event, defined as a heart attack, stroke, a coronary heart disease procedure (e.g, angioplasty), or death from cardiovascular disease.
  • Over 4 years, 10% of the persistent nondrinkers suffered a cardiovascular event.
  • The new moderate drinkers were 38% less likely than persistent nondrinkers to suffer a new cardiovascular event (P = 0.008, which is a very strong association).  The difference persisted even after adjustment for demographic and cardiovascular risk factors.
  • There was no difference in all-cause mortality (death rate) between the new moderate drinkers and the persistent nondrinkers.
  • New  drinkers had modest but statistically significant improvements in HDL and LDL cholesterol and mean blood pressure compared with persistent nondrinkers.
  • 133 new moderate drinkers consumed only wine
  • 234 new moderate drinkers consumed mixed types of alcohol
  • Wine-only drinkers were 68% less likely than nondrinkers to suffer a cardiovascular event.
  • “Consumers of moderate amounts of beer/liquor/mixed (which includes some wine) tended to also be less likely to have had a subsequent cardiovascular event than nondrinkers…but the difference was not significant.”

A Few Study Limitations

  • Four years is a relatively brief follow-up, especially for cancer outcomes.  Alcohol consumption is associated with certain types of cancer.
  • If moderate alcohol consumption indeed lowers death rates as suggested by several other studies, this study may not have lasted long enough to see it.
  • The alcohol data depended on self-reports.

Take-Home Points

The study authors cite four other studies that support a slight advantage to wine over other alcohol types.  It’s a mystery to me why they fail to stress the apparent superiority of wine in the current study.  Several other studies that found improved longevity or cardiovascular outcomes in low-to-moderate drinkers suggest that the type of alcohol does not matter.  Perhaps “the jury is still out.”  In the study at hand, however, it is clear that the reduced cardiovascular disease rate in new moderate drinkers is associated with wine.

In all fairness, other studies show no beneficial health or longevity benefit to alcohol consumption.  But at this point, the majority of published studies support a beneficial effect.

Wine is a component of the traditional healthy Mediterranean diet.  The Mediterranean diet is associated with prolonged life span and reduced cardiovascular disease.  This study strongly suggests that wine is one of the health-promoting components of the Mediterranean diet.

Starting a judicious wine habit in middle age is relatively safe for selected people and may, in fact, improve cardiovascular health, if not longevity.

Now the question is, red or white.  Or grape juice?

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  King, Dana E., et al.  Adopting Moderate Alchohol Consumption in Middle Age: Subsequent Cardiovascular Events.  American Journal of Medicine, 121 (2008): 201-206.

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