By Harald Gaier, February 14, 2008 – Have you ever wondered why the French are carefree about tobacco smoking and wine consumption? Their diet is high in sugars and fats, and vegetarianism is virtually unknown to them a perfect recipe for strokes, heart attack and atherosclerosis. However, paradoxically, the French have the lowest cardiovascular disease mortality rate in the western world (B. Schwitters & J Masqueller, OPC: In Practice, The Hidden Story of Proanthocyadine; Rome, 1994).

This puzzling situation has been connected with red wine consumption, which in France rates among the highest in the western world. In fact, the life expectancy of French men and women is among the highest in the world. It is the oligomeric proanthocyanidine (OPC) in the grape seeds processed in French red wine that has been found to have this amazing protective effect against cardiovascular degenerative problems (C. Kilham, OPC: The Miracle Antioxidant, 1997; Keats Publishing).

A key risk factor for heart disease is thought to be high consumption of saturated fat. This has been linked to low density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol), which causes atherosclerosis, the furring up of arteries. Besides drinking wine, there are other corrective measures that we can take, if we think this sort of damage has been done.

We have recently become aware that correcting nutritional deficiencies can also correct the problem. Such deficiencies allow the amino acid homocysteine to increase in the bloodstream of patients. There is a very clear relationship between concentrations of homocysteine and the risks of both heart attacks and strokes. In addition, vitamin C levels are low in those who are at a higher risk of heart disease, such as elderly males and tobacco smokers.

Taking just a small amount of vitamin E (even just 25 IU per day) counteracts LDL oxidation and stops the formation of blood clots. Two excellent studies from Harvard University demonstrated that those who took upwards from 100 IU/day of vitamin E reduced their risk of heart disease substantially, even when adjusted for all the known risk factors.

A special feature of these investigations is that they clearly show that the risk reduction is simply due to the protective effect of vitamin E intake. Double blind, placebo controlled trials established that 100-750 IU/day of vitamin E significantly reduced the appearance of both angina and heart attacks (N Engl J Med, 1993; 328: 1444-9). Vitamin E can even protect against alcoholic cardiomyopathy (drinker’s heart) .
Please note that high doses of vitamin E are not recommended for those people who suffer from hypertension, rheumatic heart disease, and certain other conditions, except under close supervision by a qualified health practitioner.

Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid are all intricately involved in the metabolism of homocysteine; the lower the level of these vitamins, the higher the metabolism of this amino acid.

Copper deficiency can damage the heart and arteries. Supplements of 3 mg of copper daily can lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL (“good” cholesterol) (Nutr Rep Int, 1987; 36: 641-50). High levels of zinc intake are well known to block copper from being absorbed. Therefore, a low copper intake, together with a very high zinc intake, may bring about an increased risk of heart disease. It is, perhaps, as well to have both the copper and zinc levels checked periodically.

Finally, magnesium deficiency is also linked to heart disease. Magnesium supplementation can reduce the risk of angina, cardiac arrest and death.

In one study, in 17 patients examined the day after coronary bypass surgery, magnesium was found to help prevent the blood pressure raising effects of adrenaline without affecting the heart rate or function. In other words, magnesium prevented coronary artery constriction (Anaesthesiology, 1991; 74: 973-9).

Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath and homeopath.

heart.png14 February 2008

Here’s a good message for everyone on Valentine’s Day: feeling loved can be one of the best protections against coronary heart disease.  It even works if you have a health problem, or if you’re depressed.

Scientists discovered the importance of love when they tracked the health of 6,025 men and women without heart disease for 15 years.  Overall, 1,141 participants developed heart disease over the lifetime of the study, but those who had a positive outlook, and who were in a loving relationship, reduced their risk considerably.

The researchers assumed that the effect was due to the possibility that people with a positive outlook might adopt good health habits, but the same protective qualities were enjoyed even by those who did little to maintain a good health regime.
So – Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all!

(Source: Archives of General Psychiatry, 2007; 64: 1393-1401).

Washington Post – Chocolate not only can win hearts this Valentine’s Day, but there’s increasing evidence to suggest that it may help mend them, too.

Dark, sweet and with a “mouth feel” that some consider akin to the pleasures of sex, chocolate was once reserved for the royal and the very rich. Today, it is comfort food for the masses. The average American consumes about 11 pounds of chocolate per year, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Women tend to eat more chocolate than men; Westerners seem to eat more than people in other regions of the country.

Popular, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean nutritious. “Chocolate is not a health food,” says Jeffrey Blumberg, director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. “Broccoli, yes, you can eat all you want. Dark chocolate, I can’t say that about.”

Even so, Blumberg says his lab and others have found tantalizing evidence that ingredients in dark chocolate can help promote heart health, reduce the risk of some types of cancer, improve insulin sensitivity, control blood pressure and may even have a future role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

“The whole thinking about chocolate has changed,” says Penny Kris-Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. “At one point, we thought it had no adverse effects because it didn’t raise blood cholesterol levels, but now we understand that it has beneficial effects.”

The effects come from plant-based substances known as flavonoids, also found in green tea and in red wine. The darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids it generally contains, “although that’s not a guarantee,” Blumberg says. Chocolate with 70 percent or more cacao seems to pack the biggest flavonoid punch.

Studies show that these flavonoids lower blood pressure in people with hypertension and can keep it low in healthy individuals. On remote islands off the coast of Panama, the Kuna Indians eat a diet rich in fish and fruit. Unlike many indigenous peoples, their meals also contain enough sodium to rival that of people living in more developed parts of Panama. But the Kuna sidestep an age-related rise in blood pressure that occurs worldwide.

How? Scientists ascribe it to their practice of sipping five or more cups daily of a cocoa beverage.

Until about 100 years ago, sipping was pretty much the only way chocolate was consumed, according to Beth Kimmerle, author of “Chocolate: The Sweet History” (Collectors Press; 2005). That practice changed when Pennsylvania candymaker Milton Hershey and European chocolatiers figured out how to mass-produce chocolate bars. (Warm sipping chocolate is making a bit of a comeback in specialty groceries such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.)

Whether drunk or eaten, dark chocolate can help prevent platelets from clumping in blood, which helps set the stage for heart attacks and strokes. It improves vascular reactivity, the ability of blood vessels to dilate when stressed, in both “healthy people and people with heart disease,” Blumberg says.

Recent studies also point to a possible role for chocolate flavonoids in prevention of breast and prostate cancer and in improving blood flow to the brain — a finding that hints at protection against Alzheimer’s disease.

Just don’t look for those benefits from either white chocolate, Dutch cocoa or milk chocolate. All are either low in flavonoids or devoid of them.

Of course, even dark chocolate has some downsides. In January, Australian researchers reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that women ages 70 to 85 who consumed chocolate daily had lower bone density and strength than their counterparts who ate less.

Plus, with about 150 calories per ounce, “chocolate is high in calories and fairly high in fat,” notes Dennis A. Savaiano, professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University. Even so, “if you’re going to have some candy,” Savaiano says, “it seems to me that dark chocolate is among the best choices and, in moderation, it can be part of a heart-healthy strategy.”

By Allison Van Dusen, FORBES.com – With Valentine’s Day approaching, you’re probably planning a night out with your spouse or debating whether to buy the typical candy, flowers or jewelry.

But instead of throwing away $123, what the average consumer plans to spend this year, according to the National Retail Federation, why not focus on getting your honey something that isn’t available in a card store–a longer, healthier life.

For years research has shown that married people, aside from weight problems, tend to be healthier than those who are divorced, widowed, never married or cohabitating. The reasons why, however, haven’t been totally clear. Now a growing number of studies are looking at the role spouses can play in influencing each other’s health.
“This idea,” says John Ruiz, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Washington State University, “has been part of popular folklore for a long time. But only now is research gathering evidence to support it.” Ruiz’s 2006 research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has demonstrated how one spouse’s personality can impact the other’s attitude and recovery from surgery.

Along with colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, he analyzed more than 100 men who’d had coronary artery bypass surgery. Eighteen months later, those patients married to neurotic and anxious spouses were more likely to have symptoms of depression, which can contribute to an increased risk of heart attack and coronary disease.

“If you are the more negative spouse, at least try to put on a happy face,” Ruiz suggests. “Your demeanor will have effects.”

But that doesn’t mean you should bottle up your feelings. Preliminary results of a University of Michigan study show that a good fight with your spouse might benefit you both.

Researchers looked at 192 couples over 17 years, categorizing them according to whether one, both or neither partner suppressed anger after being “unfairly” verbally attacked by the other. Death was twice as likely to occur among couples who both suppressed anger as in all of the other couple combinations.

Ernest Harburg, research scientist emeritus in the departments of epidemiology and psychology at the University of Michigan, says the findings show couples stand to gain a lot from figuring out how to express their anger in ways that still allow them to resolve conflict and make up. “Talk it out, learn to listen, learn not to interrupt and learn to cool off,” Harburg says.

One of last summer’s big health headlines suggested that obesity is socially contagious. The Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed, among other things, that if one spouse becomes obese, the likelihood that the other will follow suit increases 37%. But while most reports focused on the obesity angle, the research also showed the existence of distinct clusters of thin people and the possibility that thinness is contagious.
Want your spouse to lose weight? Try focusing on your own waistline, the study suggests. And other recent research has shown that being a good role model can help make your spouse healthier, too.

Tracy Falba, a visiting professor at Duke University, co-authored a 2007 study published in the journal Health Services Research that demonstrated when one spouse quits smoking or drinking, or gets a cholesterol screening or a flu shot, the other is more likely to do the same. It also works for exercise.

So if you’ve been looking for that extra motivation to hit the gym, think about what your healthy behavior could do for your spouse.

“It’s going to ricochet,” Falba says, “throughout the household.”

In Pictures: How To Make Your Spouse Live Longer