Even Mild Sleep Problems Linked to Hypertension in Women

Women who struggle to fall asleep or who have other sleep problems are at an increased risk for high blood pressure. In fact, it only takes mild sleep problems for a “significant” increase in hypertension risk, even if women are able to sleep a healthy dose of 7-9 hours. [1]

As many as 50 to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder and up to 30% of Americans occasionally struggle with insomnia, according to the American Sleep Foundation (ASF).

In a statement, lead author Brooke Aggarwal, a behavioral scientist in the department of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, called those estimates “concerning, since studies have shown that sleep deprivation and milder sleep problems may have a disproportionate effect on cardiovascular health in women.”

Aggarwal and her team became determined to investigate the ASF’s claim that women are more likely than men to have trouble falling and staying asleep and to experience more daytime sleepiness.

Study: Treating Insomnia Could Reduce Heart Attack and Stroke

To study that claim, the researchers examined the blood pressure measurements and sleep habits of 323 healthy women aged 20 to 79. They found that mild sleep disturbances such as poor-quality sleep, difficulty falling asleep, and insomnia were nearly 3 times more common than severe sleep disturbances like obstructive sleep apnea. [2]

In addition to being considerably more likely to have high blood pressure, women were also more likely to see an elevation in a pro-inflammatory protein that is common in the development of cardiovascular disease. [1]

Similarly, the authors found an association between this inflammation and mild sleep disturbances.

The authors concluded:

“Relatively mild sleep disturbances such as poor sleep quality, prolonged time to fall asleep, and insomnia are associated with increased blood pressure and vascular inflammation in women, even in the absence of sleep deprivation.” [2]

Aggarwal added:

“It may be prudent to screen women for milder sleep disturbances in an effort to help prevent cardiovascular disease.”

And based on the findings, it may be prudent for women with even mild sleep problems to see their doctor – especially since sleeping too much or too little has also been linked to a sharply increased risk of high blood pressure.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Sources:

[1] Newsweek

[2] Medical News Today

Under New Guidelines, Millions more Americans Have High Blood Pressure

In a recently published study, scientists warn that new guidelines for high blood pressure would send the number of people considered hypertensive soaring. [1]

New guidelines released by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have lower values for what is considered high blood pressure, and a lower threshold at which hypertension medications would be recommended.

When researchers from the Yale School of Medicine analyzed nationally representative data from adults aged 45-75 in the United States and China, they realized that if both countries adopted the new guidelines, more than half of those in that age group would be considered hypertensive and would be prescribed a blood pressure-lowering medication.

Under the guidelines, some 70 million Americans in this age group (63%) would be diagnosed with high blood pressure – an increase of 27% from the previous guidelines. In China, 267 million people in this age group (55%) would fall into the same category.

But the authors noted that the study only looked at one age group, so potentially millions more people might also be considered hypertensive and in need of treatment.

Drawing Conclusions from the Data

  • First, millions of people would be psychologically impacted by learning they now magically have a disease.
  • Second, many blood pressure medications come with nasty side effects, so newly diagnosed adults would face risks posed by unnecessary treatments.
  • Third, where will the extra resources and infrastructure needed to deal with an onslaught of new hypertension patients come from?

Untreated hypertension can lead to life-changing – and life-ending – health problems, after all. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels and organs including the heart, the brain, the kidneys, and the eyes. Over time, the damage can lead to heart disease and stroke.

The hope is that the newfangled guidelines will catch hypertension in its infancy and prevent it from worsening and causing catastrophic damage.

The good news is that if hypertension is caught early enough, pharmaceuticals won’t be needed. Instead, weight loss, a healthy diet, and physical activity can be recommended to solve the problem before patients need to start popping pills.

But there’s also bad news … or good news, depending on how you look at it.

More Kids Have High Blood Pressure

The percentage of kids with high blood pressure declined between 2001 and 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). [2]

Ah, but that was before new guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) were released in 2017, which lowered the threshold for a diagnosis of high blood pressure in those under 19 years of age.

Now, an additional 795,000 kids are considered hypertensive – including 1 in 7 U.S. teens – and you know what that means: more kids taking pharmaceuticals. $$$

Dr. Rachel Bond, who helps direct women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said:

“The new hypertension guidelines have reclassified those young patients who previously were considered to have ‘normal’ blood pressure to now fall under the category of high blood pressure.”

But, as is the case with adults, good can certainly come from this. The earlier someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure, the sooner they can be treated for it, hopefully with diet and lifestyle changes. If you think about it, the lower threshold could prevent an overflow of sick adults in the future.

Read: 6 Natural Solutions for High Blood Pressure

And there’s even more good news. Researchers believe the drop in hypertensive kids between 2001 and 2016 was a result of – at least partly – “improved diet quality or improved [blood pressure] screening, and earlier lifestyle or pharmacological interventions,” according to Sandra Jackson, a heart researcher at the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

For example, many U.S. schools have worked to reduce the amount of sodium- and fat-filled items from their menus (though not all scientists believe that sodium causes hypertension). Things have been improving, though it’s not immediately apparent by glancing at the AAP guidelines. And now physicians have an opportunity to nip hypertension in the bud before it can cause serious health problems.

Dr. David Friedman, who directs heart failure services at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital, New York, said:

“Screening and intervening on risk factors for heart disease earlier in life can make a big difference in trying to reduce future risk.”

Bond agreed, adding:

“Although children don’t usually suffer the consequences of high blood pressure in the pediatric years, if left untreated, high blood pressure, also known as the ‘silent killer,’ can result in multiple complications later on in life.”

Sources:

[1] Newsweek

[2] HealthDay

Yummy! Weekly Chocolate Snack Protects Against Atrial Fibrillation

If your significant other hands you a box of chocolates, your heart might skip a beat; but that’s pretty much the only time you want to feel your heart flutter. Even sweeter, eating what’s in that box may protect you from a dangerous form of heart palpitations called atrial fibrillation, a study shows.

Published in May of 2017 in the journal Heartthe study found that adults who ate chocolate 1-3 times per month were 10-20% less likely to suffer from atrial fibrillation, or AFib, than those who snacked on chocolate once a month or less. [1]

Discovering the Heart-Healthy Properties of Chocolate

Researchers looked at long-term data regarding the diets of more than 55,500 men and women aged 50-64 years old in Denmark. The participants submitted information relating to their eating habits upon entering the study, between 1993 and 1997.

The researchers then used data from Denmark’s national health registry to determine which participants had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation since the start of the study. The data revealed that 3,350 people had been diagnosed with AFib over an average of 13.5 years.

They found that:

  • People who ate approximately 1 oz. of chocolate per week had a 17% lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation by the end of the study compared to those who ate less than an ounce of chocolate a month.
  • Participants who consumed 2-6 oz. of chocolate a week were 20% less likely to develop AFib by the end of the study.
  • Women who ate just one serving of chocolate a week were found to be the least likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. The biggest risk reduction for men was associated with eating 2-6 servings of chocolate per week. [1]

Many of the health benefits associated with chocolate are found in dark chocolate, but most people in Denmark consume milk chocolate. The researchers said they weren’t sure they’d find such a large reduction in AFib risk among the population. [2]

Elizabeth Mostofsky, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and one of the leaders of the study, said:

“We were pleasantly surprised that — despite the fact that most of the chocolate may have [had] relatively low cocoa concentrations — we were still able to see robust findings.” [2]

However, the amount of cocoa in chocolate varies significantly between the U.S. and Denmark. In the United States, milk chocolate must contain 10% cocoa solids – the suspected beneficial ingredient, compared to Denmark, where the sweet treat is required to contain 30%. [3]

The study’s authors note in an editorial published alongside the research that chocolate lovers had fewer cases of hypertension and diabetes, and had overall lower blood pressure – all factors that could help explain why those same individuals were less likely to develop atrial fibrillation. [2]

Read: 10+ Healthful Reasons to Consume Chocolate

Atrial fibrillation is believed to be caused by the release of certain molecules that damage heart tissue. Chocolate contains flavanols that can ward off the type of inflammation that can lead to tissue damage. Furthermore, flavanols may counteract the clots that could form when an irregular heartbeat allows blood to pool in the heart. [3]

Past studies have shown that eating chocolate can reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack, as well as lower blood pressure and even prevent obesity.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a quivering or irregular heartbeat, according to the American Heart Association. The condition can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications.

Read: Know the Causes and Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

A healthy heart normally contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. However, in people with AFib, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly (quiver) instead of maintaining a regular beat to effectively move blood into the ventricles. [4]

Many people with atrial fibrillation are unaware that they have it; yet it affects more than 33 million people worldwide, and an estimated 25% of adults will develop the heart condition sometime in their lifetime, the accompanying editorial states.

Sources:

[1] Newsweek

[2] NPR

[3] Los Angeles Times

[4] American Heart Association


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Study Shows Why It Is So Important to Maintain a Steady Weight

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how easy it is to gain a few pounds – or how difficult it can be to lose it! Five pounds might seem like little more than a nuisance, but a recent study indicates that packing on just a few pounds can increase your chances of developing heart failure. [1]

A little weight gain can lead to a lot of health problems because packing on pounds can alter the structure of the heart and its ability to pump blood.

It sounds like doom and gloom, but the solution is simple: Drop the weight.

By “simple” I don’t mean it’s easy to do, because if that was the case, people would do it more often. But the solution is simple in that a few extra pounds doesn’t have to cut your life short, and you don’t have to go under the knife or take a bunch of risky pharmaceuticals to fix the problem.

Dr. Ian Neeland, the lead researcher behind the study, said:

“People who gain weight, even as little as 5%, are more likely to have thickening of the left side of their heart, which is a well-established indicator of heart failure.”

Read: 11 Ways to Naturally Boost Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

According to Neeland, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, these individuals “were also more likely to have decreases in their heart’s pumping ability.” But those who lose the weight, he said, improve their heart’s pumping ability and decrease the thickness of the organ’s muscle, and that likely lowers their risk for heart failure.

Belly fat is especially dangerous, as it can accumulate around the organs and produce hormones that can damage the heart and cause inflammation, Neeland explained. The extra weight itself puts a strain on the heart, forcing it to pump harder. All of that extra work can lead to thickening of the heart muscle, and “Thick hearts can’t compensate for the change and can ultimately fail,” he said.

Losing weight may reverse some of the damage to your heart, but it’s (obviously) best to keep the weight off in the first place.

Thank Goodness the Heart is “Dynamic”

For the study, researchers analyzed health data from 92,837 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, and 25,303 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Women reported their weight at age 18, while the men recalled their weight at age 21. [2]

At the beginning of the study, more than 1,200 men and women, average age 44, who didn’t have heart disease or any conditions that put them at risk for heart disease when the research began were given MRI scans of their heart. This was repeated 7 years later. [1]

Those who increased their weight by as little as 5% were found to be more likely to have thickening and enlargement of the left ventricle, which is the lower chamber of the heart. This is considered a precursor to heart failure. [2]

Participants who gained 5-22 pounds by the age of 55 had an increased risk for heart disease, hypertension, obesity-related cancer, and premature death. The more weight a person gained, the higher their risk.

For every 11 pounds gained:

  • There was a 30% increase in the risk for Type 2 diabetes
  • A 14% increase in the risk for high blood pressure
  • A 6% increase in the risk for obesity-related cancers
  • A 5% increase in the risk for dying early

What’s more, every 11-pound weight gain reduced the likelihood a participant would score well on a healthy aging assessment of physical and cognitive health by 17%.

Additionally, those individuals were more likely to have small decreases in their heart’s pumping ability.

The findings remained steadfast even after Neeland and his colleagues adjusted for other factors that can affect the heart, including high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and alcohol use.

But participants who lost the weight were more likely to see a decrease in the thickness of their heart muscle, so all was not lost by the extra pounds.

It didn’t appear to make a difference how much a person weighed at the start of the study, but Neeland said that even if you’re normal weight, slight weight gain can damage your heart over time.

Yo-yo dieting can be just as unhealthy as being overweight. So, if you lose weight, make every effort to keep it off.

Dr. Byron Lee, a professor of medicine and director of the electrophysiology laboratories and clinics at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study, said:

“Gaining weight is bad for you, period.

In this study, we find out another reason why gaining even a few pounds over time has negative effects on the heart. Patients need to realize that keeping fit is better than any medication a doctor can give them for their long-term health.” [1]

Sources:

[1] Health Day

[2] Today


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“Diet” Artificial Sweeteners may Actually Expand Your Waistline

In a new analysis of studies involving more than 406,000 patients, researchers found that people who substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar – even the natural kinds – actually gained weight, instead of losing it. [1]

Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the study looked at the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners on heart health, weight, stroke incidence, and blood pressure levels.

The researchers wrote:

“We found that consumption of nonnutritive sweeteners was associated with modest long-term weight gain in observational studies.”

Artificial sweeteners were once touted by doctors as healthy for diabetics who didn’t want to give up sweets, but who also realized that continuing to eat sugar could cause serious complications or death. But the analysis showed that the consumption of artificial sweeteners may increase a person’s risk for developing the disease, and other potentially serious health conditions.

The team says:

“Our results also extend previous meta-analyses that showed higher risks of type 2 diabetes and hypertension with regular consumption.”

Some of the Findings

For the analysis, researchers reviewed 30 studies that followed groups of people that used artificial sweeteners, including aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and stevioside (Stevia). The studies involved in the review including longer, larger studies with follow-ups every 4-9 years. Study participants not only gained weight using artificial sweeteners, they also had higher risks of obesity, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Read: The Dangers of Sucralose/Splenda Revealed Again by Extensive New Review

Specifically, the observational studies noted a small increase in body mass index (BMI) associated with consumption of artificial sweeteners, a 14% greater chance of developing Type 2 diabetes for those who consumed the most artificial sweeteners, and a 32% higher risk of cardiovascular events for those who ate the most, compared to those who ate the least. [2]

Those who had hoped to lose weight in the short-term were met with disappointment; participants in the 7 shorter randomized, controlled studies reviewed in the analysis didn’t show consistent weight-loss after 6 months.

Lead author Meghan Azad, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, said:

“From all that research, there was no consistent evidence of a long-term benefit from the sweetener, but there was evidence for weight gain and increased risks of other cardiometabolic outcomes.” [2]

Tricked into Poor Health

The fact that sugar causes obesity and a host of other health problems is fairly common knowledge these days, but the reason why artificial sweeteners appear to do the same things is less understood. To put it in simple terms, artificial sweeteners “trick” the brain into thinking the body is consuming real sugar.

See, artificial sweeteners are chemically different than sugar. When you taste something containing artificial sweeteners, receptors are activated on the tongue that lets the brain know you are eating or drinking something sweet. [3]

When you eat something sweet, the brain’s reward center is activated by a surge of dopamine. Leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone, is also released. When you eat something with calories, leptin eventually signals to your brain that you are full.

However, when you eat something sweet but with no calories, your brain’s pleasure pathway still gets activated, but the lack of calories means there is nothing to shut it off.

Watch: How Diet Sodas Mess With Your Brain (Video)

In turn, your body signals that it needs more calories, which results in carb cravings. In the end, you wind up eating more than you should, taking in more calories than you should, and those carbohydrates get converted into sugar.

Artificial sweeteners have been shown to alter gut microbes, some of which have been linked to obesity.

Furthermore, researchers have discovered that artificial sweeteners alter metabolic pathways linked to metabolic disease.

Stevia is considered the “safest” artificial sweetener, because it is natural. However, if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues, and you should probably avoid artificial sweeteners entirely.

According to a study published earlier in 2017, 1/4 of U.S. children and 41% of American adults consume artificial sweeteners, most of them at least once per day. Though people likely consume more artificial sweeteners than they realize, since they’re in everything from granola bars to yogurt. [2]

Your safest bet is to learn to enjoy your coffee black, and choose foods free of sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Easier said than done, I know, but you can do it!

Sources:

[1] ABC News

[2] NPR

[3] Mercola.com


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Avocados Could be Key in Avoiding Metabolic Syndrome, Numerous Ailments

Did you know that in past studies, avocado-eaters have been shown to be healthier than non-eaters? Chowing down on the fruit (yes, avocados are technically berries!) is associated with a lower body weight, a lower body mass index (BMI), a lower intake of added sugars, higher nutrient levels, and a better-quality diet overall. It makes perfect sense, then, that a new review of medical literature shows that eating avocados may help you avoid metabolic syndrome.

Dubbed the “new silent killer,” metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together and put you at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. [1]

These conditions include:

  • Abdominal obesity
  • High triglycerides
  • Low HDL “good” cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar [2]

Some 23% of U.S. adults are affected by metabolic syndrome. [3]

For the review, Iranian researchers looked at 129 previously published studies that examined the effects of avocado consumption on the different components, or conditions, of metabolic syndrome. The majority of the reviewed studies examined the fleshy part of the avocado that people normally eat, but some also looked at the leaves, peels, oils, and pits of avocados. [1]

Avocados were shown in the studies to have the most beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. Furthermore, the researchers concluded that avocado consumption can influence LDL “bad” cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and phospholipids. Phospholipids, along with protein, are major components of cell membranes.

The authors, who recommend eating avocados on a daily basis, wrote:

“The lipid-lowering, antihypertensive, antidiabetic, anti-obesity, antithrombotic, antiatherosclerotic, and cardioprotective effects of avocado have been demonstrated in several studies.” [1]

So, to translate, there isn’t really any aspect of metabolic syndrome that avocados can’t fight, and there isn’t any part of the avocado that doesn’t have these abilities. The creamy fruit even “melts” belly fat, considered the most dangerous type of fat to carry on the body.

Source: Mercola.com

Yes, metabolic syndrome has been dubbed the “new silent killer,” but avocados have been deemed a “perfect food” because of their countless health benefits. Avocados are a reliable source of vitamin E, which is vital for protecting brain health and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. They’ve even been shown to reduce the signs of aging by combating free radicals.

So whip up a batch of guacamole, throw some avocado slices on a sandwich, or cut one in half and bake an egg inside of each half. This is one food you should make a part of your daily routine.

Sources:

[1] Time

[2] American Heart Association

[3] Medical News Today

Mercola.com


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