Salt and Your Health: Study Links High Intake to Early Death

Does high salt intake lead to cardiovascular problems? According to a study released in June, it does. A ‘more accurate’ test measurement showed a direct link between consuming high amounts of salt and an elevated risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The study, conducted by scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, used multiple measurements to determine just how salt might affect cardiovascular health. The team writes in the International Journal of Epidemiology that salt intake has been inaccurately determined in the past.

Dr. Nancy Cook, a biostatistician in the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a news release:

“Sodium is notoriously hard to measure. Sodium is hidden – you often don’t know how much of it you’re eating, which makes it hard to estimate how much a person has consumed from a dietary questionnaire.”

While there are numerous ways to measure sodium excretions, those methods aren’t always accurate, Cook said.

In order to accurately measure sodium levels in urine, the urine must be tested over 24 hours. This is because sodium levels in urine can fluctuate throughout the day. The researchers also say that samples should be taken on multiple days because sodium consumption can vary from day to day.

Cook and her colleagues used spot samples for the study, but they also utilized other methods, including the “gold standard” of analyzing an average of multiple, non-consecutive urine samples.

Additionally, the scientists analyzed records from participants in the Trials of Hypertension Prevention, which included 2,974 people with pre-hypertension aged 30-54 years. A total of 272 people died during the 24-year follow-up period.

The researchers’ updated method showed a direct linear relationship between increased sodium intake and increased risk of death. Using the gold standard testing method, the team found that the average sodium intake was 3,769 mg/d, and the average overestimated sodium intake by 1,297 mg/d.

The common Kawasaki formula used to judge salt intake showed a J-shaped curve, which suggests that both low and high levels of salt intake are linked to an increased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

The authors wrote:

“Our findings indicate that inaccurate measurement of sodium intake could be an important contributor to the paradoxical J-shaped findings reported in some cohort studies. Epidemiological studies should not associate health outcomes with unreliable measurements of sodium intake.”

According to Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, too much sodium wreaks havoc on the kidneys and heart and forces the body to hold onto water to dilute the excess sodium. [2]

A combination of the amount of fluid surrounding cells and the volume of blood in the bloodstream forces the heart to work harder and puts increased pressure on blood vessels. Over time, this can lead to stiffening of blood vessels, resulting in hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.

Now, there is evidence to suggest that the type of salt a person consumes is more important than the amount they consume. Industrially-refined salt lacks the minerals the body needs to properly function, and that’s the kind of salt that gets dumped into processed foods.

Unrefined sea salt provides many health benefits that we’ve covered in the past. But you must make sure it is unrefined.

Furthermore, there are scientists who believe that the over-consumption of sodium is not the true cause of high blood pressure.

Sources:

[1] UPI

[2] Newsmax

Study: Losing Money While Young can Lead to Heart Disease Later

You’re working hard, paying your bills, and enjoying a social life on the side when, all of a sudden, you lose your job. Life isn’t so easy anymore. You worry about how you’re going to pay your rent and put gas in your car. Income fluctuations are stressful, and can lead to numerous health issues. One study found that when you lose money in young adulthood in particular, the risk for heart disease increases.

A recent study published in the journal Circulation shows that unexpected dips in income for young adults nearly double the risk of death and cause a more-than-50% increase in the likelihood of developing cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack, stroke, and heart failure during the following 10 years when compared to people with a steadier income.

Read: 5 Ways Stress Affects Your Mind and Body

Study leader Tali Elfassy, an assistant professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida, said:

“Income volatility presents a growing public health threat, especially when federal programs, which are meant to help absorb unpredictable income changes, are undergoing continuous changes, and mostly cuts.”

Beginning in 1990, Elfassy and colleagues focused on people who had lost 25% or more of their income. The team looked at cardiovascular events among participants that resulted in death or illness between 2005 and 2015.

The study looked at people in 1990, between the ages of 23 and 35, living in Birmingham, Alabama; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois, and Oakland, California.

Most of the income fluctuations reported in the study were caused by periods of unemployment or pay cuts after changing jobs. Black people and women were more likely to experience income fluctuations, the study found. [2]

Read: 4 Things You May Not Know Are Harming Your Heart

The researchers were surprised by how much of an effect income instability appeared to have on heart health.

Elfassy said:

“We assumed that income drops or frequent changes in income were probably not good for health, considering that these are thought of as stressful events. But we were surprised by the magnitude of the effect we saw since we were looking at a relatively young population. These were strong effect sizes.”

The study didn’t look at what drives the link between drops in income and an increased risk for heart disease. However, stressful events are known to contribute to obesity and high blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Moreover, having a lower socioeconomic status has been linked to poorer health, as people with lower incomes tend to smoke more, exercise less, and see their doctor less frequently, all of which can contribute to heart problems.

Read: Just 9 Walnuts a Day Can “Bust Stress Levels”

Elfassy said: [1]

“While this study is observational in nature and certainly not an evaluation of such programs, our results do highlight that large negative changes in income may be detrimental to heart health and may contribute to premature death.”

In the U.S., approximately 1 in 4 deaths are attributed to heart disease, which can be worsened by smoking and hypertension.

Sources:

[1] UPI

[2] Time

Cholesterol Guidelines Updated for the First Time Since 2013

On November 12, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) updated the clinical guidelines for managing cholesterol for the first time since 2013. Unlike in the past, the new guidelines do not suggest a one-size-fits-all approach, but a more personalized one that allows patients to take a more active role in managing their health.

In addition to new assessments of patient risk for cardiovascular disease, the guidelines also give approval for new drugs to treat high-risk patients, and a treatment blueprint designed to help doctors and patients determine when it is appropriate to start taking cholesterol-lowering medication.

Dr. Michael Valentine, president of the ACC, said:

“High cholesterol is not one size fits all, and this guideline strongly establishes the importance of personalized care. Over the past 5 years, we’ve learned even more about new treatment options and which patients may benefit from them. By providing a treatment roadmap for clinicians, we are giving them the tools to help their patients understand and manage their risk and live longer, healthier lives.”

The go-to-treatment for high cholesterol that can’t be controlled by diet and exercise has traditionally been statin drugs. These medications can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, but it isn’t always clear when a patient should start taking them. According to the new guidelines, patients should undergo calcium artery scans before being prescribed statins when it isn’t clear how high their risk is for cardiovascular disease.

When statins don’t work for a patient – such as when an individual has suffered a heart attack or stroke, or their LDL-C levels have not been lowered by statins – the guidelines recommend the use of 2 new, cholesterol-lowering drugs. The guidelines also recommend first adding a drug called ezetimibe, in addition to statins. For more severe cases, the guidelines recommend adding a PCSK9 inhibitor drug.

Additionally, the new guidelines call for doctors to consider screening children as young as 2 for cardiovascular risk factors if they have a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol. [2]

That might sound crazy, but consider this: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2015-2016 shows that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people aged 6-19 years old in the U.S. is obese.

What’s more, the national obesity rate among children ages 2 to 19 in the U.S. is 18.5%, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The traditional view among doctors is that obesity and high cholesterol combined increases a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, so the authors of the guidelines believe it is important to start looking out for kids’ heart health at a young age.

Dr. Sarah D. de Ferranti, chief of outpatient cardiology and director of preventive cardiology at Harvard Medical School’s Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a statement:

“It’s important that, even at a young age, people are following a heart-healthy lifestyle and understanding and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.”

No More One-Size-Fits-All Targets

The new guidelines represent a shift in the way doctors and clinicians treat high cholesterol, but so, too, did the 2013 guidelines.

Amit Khera, MD, the director of the preventative cardiology program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, explained that, in the past, doctors encouraged patients to reach a low LDL target, like a “magic number.” For high-risk patients, that meant an LDL level of under 70 mg/DL in the blood.

The new guidelines have eliminated that target altogether. The goal now is to curb overall risk, rather than achieving a certain cholesterol number.

The 2018 revisions expand on those from 2013, “and give doctors and patients a little more to support their decision-making,” Khera said.

The updated guidelines also created new risk assessment tools that expand on the information collected from patients. The assessments still take into account standard risk factors like smoking and obesity, but also consider family history, ethnicity, and certain health conditions, such as premature menopause in women, when determining a patient’s risk for cardiovascular disease.

The hope is that in addition to helping clinicians compile a more comprehensive understanding of their patients’ risk status, there will be more factors for patients to consider, which will hopefully motivate them to take a more active role in reducing their risk.

Khera said:

“Guidelines are only as good as implemented, and if people aren’t going to use them, they’ll be for naught. But giving patients a little more control over their care is going to improve their adherence to care. They’ll be much more likely to keep taking the medications, which is what’s going to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Reaching a “magic” cholesterol target number can seem daunting, whereas eating more vegetables, for example, might seem more doable for a lot of people.

A New Way of Thinking

A study published in January 2018 recommends statin drugs are given to an additional 9 million U.S. adults for preventing heart attack and stroke, sparking great debate among the medical community. [3]

It’s not difficult to see why many experts disagree with that assessment.

In recent years, studies have suggested that having high cholesterol does not increase a person’s risk for heart attack and stroke. Despite the availability of every type of low-fat and fat-free food imaginable, rates of both obesity and heart disease have continued to climb. If cholesterol was indeed the culprit in cardiovascular disease, you would expect to see those numbers declining.

Several renowned cardiologists have stated that cholesterol is vital for brain matter, nerves, and all other cellular structures in the body. Moreover, they say calcium deposits in the arteries are far more dangerous than cholesterol, as cholesterol is waxy and pliable, whereas calcium deposits are hard. Therefore, cardiologists say that doctors are focusing their attention in the wrong place.

Other noted cardiologists have gone on the record stating that saturated fat, believed to increase cholesterol levels, does not cause heart disease. They note that even in people with established heart disease, reducing saturated fat alone does not reduce heart attacks.

And while statins do work for many people, the drugs are linked to over 300 adverse events. Take a look at these headlines we have covered here at Natural Society.

A Move in the Right Direction, Hopefully

Hopefully, the new guidelines will encourage people to become more engaged in lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease through diet and lifestyle, and reduce the need more even more Americans to start taking risky drugs that may or may not protect their heart health.

If you’ve been told you have dangerously-elevated cholesterol, you shouldn’t automatically assume you need to start taking pills. If your doctor suggests prescribing you a statin, discuss the idea of making lifestyle and dietary changes, such as eating a Mediterranean-style diet or including/avoiding other specific foods or food groups.

The guidelines were announced on November 10 at the AMA’s annual scientific conference and are published in the journal Circulation.

Sources:

[1] Everyday Health

[2] USA Today

[3] CNN

Diabetics: STOP Doing This to Cut Risk of Premature Death

Having Type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to mean a life of disability or early death. A few lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, can reduce those risks, especially the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Kicking cigarettes to the curb and closely following treatment protocols can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease “significantly,” according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. In some cases, the risk can be completely eliminated.

Aidin Rawshani, medical intern and doctoral student at the Institute of Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy, Sweden, and author of the report, said:

“This is definitely good news. The study shows that patients with Type 2 diabetes with all risk factors within therapeutic target range had an extremely low risk of premature death, heart attack, and stroke.”

For the study, researchers culled data from the Swedish National Diabetes Register of approximately 300,000 people with Type 2 diabetes in the period 1998-2015. The team compared the patients with up to 5 times as many gender- and age-matched individuals from the general population as a control group.

Type 2 diabetes patients were 10 times more likely than people without the disease to suffer a heart attack, heart failure, and stroke, the study found. In general, those individuals have a 45% greater risk of heart failure. [2]

These individuals also had 5 times the risk for premature death compared to the control group.

Read: Immediate and Long-Term Benefits of Quitting Smoking

Falling into the first category is dependent upon controlling a number of risk factors – blood pressure, long-term blood sugar, blood lipids, renal function, and smoking – and adherence to medication, the authors wrote. Out of all of these risk factors, smoking was found to be the most important for premature death. Elevated blood glucose was the 2nd most important risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Read: 5 Blood Sugar-Regulating Foods for Diabetics

Rawshani said:

“By optimizing these 5 risk factors, all of which can be influenced, you can come a long way. We have shown that the risks can be greatly reduced, and in some cases may even be eliminated. [1]

The study also shows that the risk of complications, especially heart failure, is greatest among those under 55 years. This makes it extra important to check and treat risk factors if you are younger with Type 2 diabetes.”

Sources:

[1] Science Daily

[2] UPI

Proteins from Nuts, Seeds Are Heart-Healthy (But Proteins from Meat Are Not)

Researchers in California and France want to remind us that not all protein is created equal (at least when considering the nutrition of the entire protein-filled food). They say that meat protein is associated with a significantly increased risk of heart disease, while proteins from nuts and seeds are heart-healthy. [1]

Published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the study found that people who eat large quantities of meat protein had a 60% risk increase in cardiovascular disease (CVD). By comparison, people who consumed large amounts of protein from nuts and seeds experienced a 40% reduction in CVD risk.

Gary Fraser, MB ChB, PhD, from Loma Linda University, and François Mariotti, PhD, from AgroParisTech and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, said:

“While dietary fats are part of the story in affecting risk of cardiovascular disease, proteins may have important and largely overlooked independent effects on risk.”

Fraser said that he and his colleagues have long suspected that red meat increases the risk of CVD, while adding more nuts and seeds to your diet protects against it. [2]

The researcher hopes that the findings will lead to further research into the way certain amino acids found in animal proteins boost the risk of heart disease, as well as more research into the relevance of blood pressure, blood lipids, and weight.

Additionally, the study found that eating more refined grains, sugary foods and starchy foods like potatoes, may promote poor heart health. These foods tend to dominate many vegetarian diets.

Lead author Dr. Ambika Satija wrote:

“It is apparent that there is a wide variation in the nutritional quality of plant foods, making it crucial to take into consideration the quality of foods in a plant-based diet.”

Reducing meat consumption has long been associated with better cardiovascular health. For example, eating animal products has been shown to increase the risk of blood clots that lead to heart attack and stroke. And back in 2013, Harvard researchers wrote that reducing meat consumption could extend your life by up to 20%.

Though one 2016 study found that eating more plant-based foods offsets the dangers of eating meat. Cool, right?

Sources:

[1] Science Daily

[2] Independent