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Cardiac Health

Pulses Reduce Cholesterol

The cholesterol debate continues to roll on, with the use of statin medications continually on the rise. These medications have caused a divide within the medical profession. Many GP’s and cardiologists have questioned their use and effectiveness in preventing heart disease. The facts show that more people are prescribed statins than before, and this number growing. Many people are not able to tolerate side effects such as muscle pain and tiredness, which are fairly common with statins. Changes in diet and general lifestyle can make significant changes to cholesterol levels. Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital have found that pulses like beans and lentils “significantly” reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, and therefore reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease. It is worth noting that LDL cholesterol, alongside HDL cholesterol is required for good health. The study was led by Dr. John Sievenpiper of the hospital’s Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre and was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The results of the study found that eating one serving (130 grams or ¾ cup) of pulses a day could lower LDL cholesterol by five per cent. According to Dr Sievenpiper, this translates into a 5 – 6 per cent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. This study demonstrates a simple, effective and inexpensive way to reduce cholesterol levels, increase fibre intake and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. An added benefit is that pulses have a low glycemic index, as they breakdown slowly, and don’t raise blood sugar...

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Tips to Lower Your Blood Pressure

As this month is National Heart Month, the following tips can help to lower or maintain a healthy blood pressure. A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80mmhg. High blood pressure is generally defined as having a diastolic pressure over 85mmhg and a systolic over 140mmhg. So read on to learn more about how to lower your blood pressure… The first change that you can make is to cut down on salt. You should not totally cut out salt from your diet, as the body requires salt for healthy function. Salt contains sodium, which encourages the body to hold onto water, which in turn puts more work on the heart and leads to increased blood pressure. Fibre is important in your diet, as it helps to flush out the extra LDL (bad) cholesterol. Foods high in fibre are: whole grains, porridge, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and lentils. Foods such as garlic, ginger and broccoli are all known to be beneficial for the heart and help to keep the arteries healthy. The best way to start exercising is to incorporate walking to your daily schedule. You can start by walking for 15minutes and gradually increase this. This will help you to lose weight and therefore reduce the work load on your heart, which will result in lowering your blood pressure. Omega 3 essential fatty acids are very important for lowering LDL cholesterol and they have an anti-inflammatory effect in the arteries. You can obtain these essential oils from flax seed or fish oil supplements. Magnesium helps to relax muscles and research has shown arteries are considerably narrower in people who are deficient in this mineral. A dose of between 400-1000mg a day has been shown to lower blood pressure. Co-enzyme Q10 is a supplement that helps to strengthen the heart and improve its function. L-Arginine has shown promise in reducing blood pressure. A study published in Alternative Medicine Review has found that in a small trial consisting of 29 patients, the results found that two thirds of the patients had a significant reduction in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure readings. These results are very promising but further larger trials are required. L-Arginine is an amino acid that is found in dark...

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National Heart Month

As February is officially National Heart Month, this is a great opportunity to look at how we can look after this vital organ through diet and natural supplements. The heart is part of the cardiovascular system, which also includes miles of blood vessels which run through the body. These vessels consist of veins and arteries which transport blood to the heart and to other organs. The health of the blood vessels is also important in maintaining a healthy heart. The best way of maintaining a healthy heart is keeping to a healthy diet, regular exercise and lowering stress levels. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds provides important vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that are important for heart health. The Mediterranean diet, which consists of plenty of vegetables and fruits, has long been considered the ideal diet for a healthy heart. Smoking, high sugar and salt intake, regular heavy drinking (or binge drinking), inactivity, high (saturated) fat foods are all factors in causing hypertension, heart failure and poor circulation. For example, smoking is a known cause of atherosclerosis, which causes narrowing of the arteries. This can lead to high blood pressure and angina. Heart disease and diabetes are illnesses that are on the increase, especially in younger people. These conditions are very much linked, as one can lead to another. The rise in the number of people who are obese is another risk factor for the heart, as well as diabetes. The number of prescriptions that are written for hypertension is constantly on the increase, but there are a number of natural remedies for maintaining a healthy heart and keeping blood pressure at a healthy level. Magnesium, vitamin C, l-arginine, co-enzyme Q10, omega 3 fatty acids and garlic are a few supplements that can improve cardiovascular health.  ...

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Exercise for a Healthy Pension

Exercise for a Healthy Pension

It’s never too late to start exercising….that’s a fact! Taking up exercise in your 60’s can still help to prevent major illnesses. These are the findings of a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine which followed 3,500 healthy people at the age of retirement. The eight year study found that those who exercised three times were more likely to remain healthy than their non active peers. The results found that exercise cut the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and depression. A fifth of the participants were classified as healthy eight years after the study. This group was mainly full of people who regularly exercised and exercise “newbies”. Dr Mark Hamer, from University College London said, “The take-home message really is to keep moving when you are elderly. It’s [a] cliche, but it’s a case of use it or lose it. You do lose the benefits if you don’t remain active.” Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This shows us that even if you don’t become active until later in life your health will benefit. However, there’s no need to wait until retirement to get started. Adults should try to be active daily and aim for 150 minutes of activities that get you breathing harder and feeling warmer each week. “Every 10 minutes counts, so even hopping off the bus a couple of stops early or taking a brisk walk on your lunch break will help.” The article A Workout a Day Helps Keep the Doctor Away reports on another large study highlighting the benefits of exercise on maintaining good health and preventing illness. We hope our health article “exercise for a healthy pension” has helped you. Please let us know by rating it above....

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5:2 Fasting diet – It’s not just for weight loss

5:2 Fasting diet – It’s not just for weight loss

The 5:2 fasting diet is nothing new, but the mechanism of how this can benefit us has not always been clear, but new research has found that fasting diets may help people with diabetes and heart disease. The added benefit is weight loss. The diet is based on eating little or no food a few days a week, and has been found to be as beneficial as exercise or surgery for heart disease.  The fasting diet has also been found to improve blood pressure and research has indicated that it may even reverse type 2 diabetes. James Brown from Aston University led a team of researchers that evaluated various approaches to intermittent fasting in medical literature. They specifically looked for the effects of fasting on the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Intermittent fasting involves alternating fasting or restricted calorie days, alternating with normal diet days. The fasting days can either be on alternate days or a few days each week.  Research has found that intermittent fasting days have been found to be more effective than calorie counting to lose weight. Clinical trials have found that 5:2 fasting can reduce inflammation and blood pressure. Fasting has also been found to improve sugar and fat levels in circulation. This diet is thought to be as effective as bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery), and it also improves pancreatic function. These findings are certainly not ground breaking or new. Intermittent fasting has been known to result in weight loss and reduce the incidence of diabetes in lab animals since the 1940’s. Recent studies have found that restricting calorie intake could reverse type 2 diabetes. “Intermittent fasting might achieve much of the benefit seen with bariatric surgery, but without the costs, restriction on numbers and risks associated with surgery,” according to lead author, James Brown. “Whether intermittent fasting can be used as a tool to prevent diabetes in those individuals at high risk or to prevent progression in those recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes remains a tantalising notion and we are currently in preparation for clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of this form of lifestyle intervention in various patient groups.” Animal studies have found that intermittent fasting has similar effects...

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Fats – the cholesterol myth?

A cardiology specialist has written about the “myth” of saturated fat in a leading medical journal. Dr Aseem Malhotra suggests that full fat butter and cheese are not as bad for the heart as previously been suggested. This view goes against that of the majority of the medical establishment. Dr Malhotra, a cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital in London says that four decades of medical wisdom of cutting down on saturated fat to reduce the risk of heart disease may be wrong. He argues that the saturated fats have been given a bad reputation since a major study in 1970 linked high levels of heart disease with high cholesterol and high saturated intake. Dr Malhotra even suggests that eating foods that have not been processed such as cheese, butter, eggs and yoghurt may even be good for the heart. Saturated fat should not be confused with “trans fats”, which are found in margarines, cakes, chocolates and biscuits. Trans fats are universally recognised as being bad for our health, and unlike saturated fats from dairy food, do not contain any vitamins or minerals. Dairy foods are rich in vitamin A and D, calcium and phosphorus, which can help to support cardiac function. Cutting down on saturated fat has been the mantra from the health authorities, but these fats are being replaced with refined carbohydrates or sugars which are thought be more dangerous for cardiac health. The current NHS guidelines recommend that the average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day and the average woman should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day. Cutting down on sugar should be more of a priority according to Dr Malhotra. Dr Malhotra said, “From the analysis of the independent evidence that I have done, saturated fat from non-processed food is not harmful and probably beneficial. Butter, cheese, yoghurt and eggs are generally healthy and not detrimental. The food industry has profited from the low-fat mantra for decades because foods that are marketed as low-fat are often loaded with sugar. We are now learning that added sugar in food is driving the obesity epidemic and the rise in diabetes and cardiovascular disease.” Dr Malhotra also...

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Can we lower cholesterol levels naturally?

This week is National Cholesterol Week. Cholesterol levels seem to be always on the rise, and the number of prescriptions written for statin medications reflects this increase. Cholesterol has become a common term now, with many people limiting the amount of cholesterol they consume in their diet. So can we lower cholesterol levels naturally? There are a number of factors to look at regarding lowering cholesterol levels naturally. The first is diet. A diet high in saturated fats and processed foods is a big cause of raised cholesterol. Foods that are high in omega 3 fatty acids should be included in the diet. Examples are salmon, almonds, walnuts, flax seeds and mackerel. Try and increase the amount of fibre in your diet, as this lowers the amount of cholesterol in the body. Foods such as brown rice, whole grain cereals, vegetables and fruits are good sources of fibre. You should reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet. Saturated fats are can be found in animal sources, butter and coconut oil. Hydrogenated fats (trans fatty acids) should be avoided as these can clog up the arteries. These fats are found in margarines, biscuits, cakes, refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Trans fatty acids increase levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and decrease levels of HLD (good cholesterol). Reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking are the two most important factors in reducing cholesterol levels. Regular exercise is a good way to keep cholesterol levels in check. This should be done in conjunction with a healthy diet. There are also a few supplements that can be taken to reduce cholesterol levels: Fish Oils and Flax seed (linseed) supplements provide an excellent source of omega 3 essential fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce triglyceride and cholesterol levels. The recommended dose is 2 to 3 grams a day, but this can be reduced if taken alongside a diet rich in omega 3 oils. Garlic can help to lower cholesterol levels. The garlic cloves can be eaten raw or cooked to achieve the cholesterol lowering benefits. Many health companies produce garlic supplements specifically marketed at improving heart function and lowering cholesterol levels. Research has found that garlic increases the HDL/LDL ratio. The active component...

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Is Exercise Better than Drugs?

New research has suggested that exercise may be as effective as drugs at treating conditions such as heart disease and strokes. This latest research questions whether doctors may be unnecessarily prescribing drugs, when dietary and exercise advice may be more appropriate. So is exercise better than drugs?, maybe doctors should be prescribing a regular walk or jog? The research analysed previous studies found no “statistically significant” difference between the effects of drugs and exercise for people with type 2-diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The research did however find that drug treatment (diuretics) was more effective than exercise for heart failure. The study which was published in the British Medical Journal analysed the results from 305 randomised trials involving 340,000 patients, was carried out by researcher Huseyin Naci from LSE Heath, London School of Economics and Political Sciences and Harvard Medical School. The researchers found that prescription numbers are continually on the increase, but exercise and activity levels are comparatively decreasing. Prescription numbers have dramatically increased during the past decade, with average of 11.2 prescriptions for every person in the UK in 2000 compared to 17.7 prescriptions in 2010. The researchers found that only 14 per cent of adults in the UK exercise regularly and only around a third of the adult population meet the recommended activity levels. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that physical inactivity causes 3.2million deaths around tyhe world each year. This is a staggering figure, and one which can easily be reduced, without the need for any equipment, and without unwanted side effect! Regular walking, cycling, sports activities or jogging is enough to make a huge dent in this death rate. The added benefit of regular exercise is an overall improvement in heath, stronger bones, weight control, and reducing the risk of cancer and depression. The researchers commented, “The findings of our review suggest that exercise and many drug interventions are often potentially similar in terms of their mortality benefits; exercise interventions should therefore be considered as a viable alternative to, or alongside, drug therapy.” They added that in cases when drug therapy only provides a modest benefit, the importance of exercise should be fully explained to patients. This is something that the NHS should...

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Beetroot Juice Can Lower High Blood Pressure

Beetroot Juice Can Lower High Blood Pressure

A glass of beetroot juice a day has been found to significantly lower high blood pressure. Several studies have discovered this benefit from taking a daily glass of beetroot juice. There have also been studies highlighting the benefit of beetroot juice on sports performance. Beetroot juice may be an acquired taste, but it seems to be worth forcing a regular dose down the throat as the health benefits suggest. Aside from lowering high blood pressure and improving sports performance, beetroots are also full of antioxidants, which help prevent illnesses and keep our cells looking young and healthy. It is thought that the nitrate content in beetroot is responsible for this blood pressure lowering property. Other vegetables that contain nitrates include cabbage, fennel and lettuce. The nitrate content in beetroot helps to widen blood vessels, which improves oxygen circulation and reduces blood pressure. This is similar to the way that nitrate medications work in the treatment of angina. This small study was conducted on eight female and seven male participants who all had a systolic blood pressure between 140 to 159 mm/Hg. The participants did not have other medical problems, and were not on any medication for their hypertension. The group drank 250mls of beetroot juice or water consisting of a low amount of nitrate, and over the following 24 hours, had their blood pressure measured. A glass of beetroot juice contains around 200grams of dietary nitrate, which is similar to a bowel of lettuce. The results found that the beetroot juice group had an average of 100mm/Hg drop in their blood pressure levels. Researcher Dr Amrita Ahluwalia said, “We were surprised by how little nitrate was needed to see such a large effect. This study shows that compared to individuals with healthy blood pressure much less nitrate is needed to produce the kinds of decreases in blood pressure that might provide clinical benefits in people who need to lower their blood pressure. However, we are still uncertain as to whether this effect is maintained in the long term,” “Our hope is that increasing one’s intake of vegetables with high dietary nitrate content, such as green leafy vegetables or beetroot, might be a lifestyle approach that one could easily employ...

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Music for a Happy Healthy Heart

Music for a Happy Healthy Heart

A new study has found that listening to music can strengthen the heart and also aid the recovery of people recovering from heart disease. This study provides further evidence of the link between music and a healthy heart. The researchers, from the Institute of Cardiology at the University of Nis, Serbia, found that endorphins are released in brain which leads to improved cardiac function when people listen to their favourite music. The 74 patients with heart disease were split into three groups. One group was assigned exercise for half an hour a day, another group had exercise and were told to listen to their favourite music, and the final group were asked to only listen to music without any performing exercise. The study was conducted for three weeks. At the end of the study, the researchers found that those who had exercised and listened to music had greatly improved their cardiac function. The findings also discovered that listening to music improved exercise capacity by 39 per cent. The exercise only group improved their capacity by 29 per cent. The music only group surprisingly increased their exercise capacity by 19 per cent. This increase is potentially due to the release of endorphins while listening to music. Professor Delijanin Ilic, the lead researcher said, “When we listen to music we like then endorphins are released from the brain and this improves our vascular health. There is no ‘best music’ for everyone – what matters is what the person likes and makes them happy.” Professor Ilic also said that certain types of music can actually be detrimental to cardiac health. Heavy metal music has been found to increase stress levels, whilst classical and other types of “happy” music have been found to release endorphins and be beneficial for cardiac function. The professor believes that listening to music could form part of the rehabilitation process in patient with coronary heart disease. Prof Ilic said, “Listening to favourite music alone and in addition to regular exercise training improves endothelial function and therefore may be an adjunct method in the rehabilitation of patients with coronary artery disease. There is no ‘ideal’ music for everybody and patients should choose music which increases positive emotions and makes...

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Beans for a Healthy Heart

Beans for a Healthy Heart

A new study has confirmed information thatmany nutritionists and health professionals have been advocating for many years, that beans within your diet can help maintain a healthy heart. The study has found that people with type-2 diabetes should eat morebeans, lentils and pulses to help control blood sugar levels and reduce therisk of heart disease. Eating more foods such as chickpeas, kidney beans, peas, puy lentils, masoor lentils and haricot beans can reduce the risk of heart disease as they have a low glycaemic index (GI). The study which was led by Dr David Jenkins at St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto said, “Legume consumption of approximately 190g per day (a cupful) seems to contribute usefully to a low-GI diet and reduce CHD (coronary heart disease) risk through a reduction in blood pressure.” Dr Jenkins continued, “These findings linking legume consumption to both improved glycaemic control and reduced CHD risk are particularly important because type-2 diabetes is increasing most rapidly in the urban environments of populations in which bean intake has traditionally been high.” This is good news for many people from South East Asia, who generally have a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes. The Indian diet incorporates many lentils and beans, and these foods should be encouraged in as part of the daily diet. People with type 2 diabetes need to eat low amounts of refined carbohydrates such as white rice and white bread.Brown rice is a good alternative as it also has a lower glycaemic...

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Daily Flaxseed Can Lower Blood Pressure

Taking a daily dose of flaxseed has been found to lower the risk of high blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Flaxseed can be added to cereals, salads or even baked foods such as bagels and muffins. Researchers from University Hospital Holguin, Cuba, havefound adding flaxseed to the diet can reduce systolic blood pressure by 10mmHgand diastolic blood pressure by 7mmHg. The study was conducted on 110 patients who had peripheralheart disease. Most of the group also had high blood pressure. The patientswere also taking an anti-hypertensive drug. Half of the group had 30g offlaxseed added to their diet (bagels, buns and muffins), and the control grouphad the same foods without the added flaxseeds. The results found that after six months the test group had asignificant drop in blood pressure levels. Dr Rodriguez who presented the studysaid that the reduction of systolic and diastolic blood pressure is the largestdecrease in blood pressure ever shown by any dietary intervention. These reductions in blood pressure would be expected to leadto a drop of around 50 per cent in the incidence of stroke and a 30 per centreduction in heart attacks, according to Dr Rodriguez. The flaxseed group also showed a major increase in plasmaalpha-linolenic acid and an even greater increase in levels of enterolactone.These levels did not change in the control group. The researchers believe that the reduction in blood pressurelevels is a result of the synergistic effect of the alpha-linolenic acid,enteroligans and...

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