Monthly Archives: April 2017

Smoking & Heart Disease

April 28th, 2017

Most people associate cigarette smoking with breathing problems and lung cancer. But smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones, bladder, and digestive organs. Smoking is the main preventable cause of death and illness in the United States.

About 20% of deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly related to tobacco use. The nicotine from chewing tobacco or any amount of smoking, even light smoking or occasional smoking, can damage your heart and blood vessels, temporarily raise blood pressure and lower your exercise tolerance.  This damage increases your risk of atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up in the arteries. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows your arteries. Smoking also decreases the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Blood clots can form in arteries causing a range of heart diseases that could ultimately result in a stroke or sudden death.

A person’s chance of heart disease increases with the number of cigarettes they smoke and how long they have smoked. If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, you are twice as likely to have a heart attack as someone who doesn’t smoke. For women who take birth control pills and people who have diabetes, smoking poses an even greater risk to the heart and blood vessels. Chewing tobacco and the smoke from cigars and pipes contains the same harmful chemicals as the smoke from cigarettes and can result in heart disease.

 The impact of tobacco smoke is not confined solely to smokers. When you smoke, the people around you, especially children,  are also at risk for having health problems.  Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe or the smoke that’s breathed out by a person who is smoking. Secondhand smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals that people inhale when they smoke. Secondhand smoke can damage the hearts and blood vessels, and can increase the risk of heart attack and death, in people who don’t smoke in the same way that active smoking harms people who do smoke. About 35,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease each year as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke. 

The good news is that quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke can help reverse heart and blood vessel damage and reduce heart disease risk. The impact of quitting is almost immediate

  • Within 20 minutes of quitting smoking, blood pressure and pulse return to normal, and circulation improves.
  • Within eight hours, blood oxygen levels increase and the chances of a heart attack start to fall.
  • Within 24 hours, carbon monoxide is eliminated from the body and the lungs start to clear out mucus and debris.
  • Within 72 hours, the lungs can hold more air and breathing becomes easier.
  • Within five years, the risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker.
  • Within 10 years, the risk of lung cancer falls to around half that of a smoker.
  • Within 15 years, the risk of heart disease becomes nearly the same as someone who has never smoked.
  • Quitting when older is still worthwhile: among smokers who quit at age 66 years, men gained up to two years of life, and women gained up to 3.7 years.  

Quitting smoking is possible, but it can be hard. Millions of people have quit smoking successfully and remained nonsmokers. A variety of strategies, programs, and medicines are available to help you quit smoking. Above all, you must also want to quit smoking for yourself, and not try to quit to please your friends or family. 

  • First, pick a date to stop smoking and then stick to it.
  • Write down your reasons for quitting. Read over the list every day, before and after you quit.
  • Write down when you smoke, why you smoke, and what you are doing when you smoke. You’ll learn what causes you to smoke.
  • Stop smoking in certain situations (such as during your work break or after dinner) before actually quitting.
  • Make a list of activities you can do instead of smoking — and do them when the urge hits.
  • Ask your doctor about nicotine gum or patches, or  drugs that can help you quit.
  • Join a stop-smoking support group or program. 

If you relapse, don’t lose hope. Seventy-five percent of those who quit smoke again. Most folks quit three times before they succeed. Plan ahead and think about what you’ll do the next time you get the urge to smoke.


April 21st, 2017

We are surrounded by sugar. 80% of the foods in your supermarket contain sugar. Whole wheat bread can have a teaspoon of sugar per slice, ketchup contains 22.8% sugar. Even if you are not overweight, over consumption of sodas, candy, cookies and processed foods can significantly increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. 

According to a study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine, in April, 2014, those who got 17 to 21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed 8 percent of their calories from added sugar. The study factored in socio-demographic, behavioral, and clinical characteristics such as age, ethnicity, level of schooling, smoking, medication use, and others. The relative risk was more than double for those who consumed 21 percent or more of their calories from added sugar. In summary, the study found the odds of dying from heart disease rose in tandem with the percentage of sugar in the diet—and that was true regardless of a person’s age, sex, physical activity level, and body-mass index (a measure of weight).

Natural sugars are found in fruit as fructose and in dairy products, such as milk and cheese, as lactose. Foods with natural sugar have an important role in your diet they provide essential nutrients that keep the body healthy and help prevent disease. Fruit and unsweetened milk have vitamins and minerals. Milk also has protein and fruit has fiber. Refined sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, which are processed to extract the sugar. It is typically found as sucrose, which is the combination of glucose and fructose. White and brown sugars are used to sweeten cakes and cookies, coffee, cereal and even fruit. Food manufacturers add chemically produced sugar, typically high-fructose corn syrup, to beverages and processed foods, including crackers, flavored yogurt, tomato sauce and salad dressing. Low-fat foods are the worst offenders, as manufacturers use sugar to add flavor. Most of the processed foods we eat add calories and sugar with little nutritional value. 

How the body metabolizes the sugar in fruit and milk differs from how it metabolizes refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. When a person consumes too much processed sugar, the liver becomes overwhelmed and begins to convert the sugars into fats. A accumulation of fat in the liver can cause  insulin resistance , which disrupts the body’s ability to maintain stable levels of blood sugar and fat. Insulin resistance is a stepping stone towards Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes. Symptoms of  Metabolic Syndrome include weight gain, abdominal obesity, decreased HDL and increased LDL, elevated blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, high blood pressure and increased uric acid levels. 

The average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons per day, the average child in the US consumes 32 teaspoons! The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories, or 25 grams) a day of sugar for most women and no more than 9 teaspoons  (150 calories, 37.5 grams) a day for most men. And children, ages 2 to 18 should eat or drink no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars daily.  One teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar. Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are by far the biggest sources of added sugar in the average American’s diet. They account for more than one-third of the added sugar we consume as a nation. Other sugar filled foods include cookies, cakes, pastries, fruit drinks, ice cream and frozen yogurt, candy, ready-to-eat cereals, and many processed foods.

 But an even bigger problem may be the sneaky sugar lurking where you least expect it. It’s in everything—even seemingly healthy foods like salad dressing, whole-wheat breads, and tomato sauces. What’s more, it’s impossible to find out how much added sugar a food contains by looking at the nutrition facts panel, since labels don’t distinguish between added sugars and naturally occurring ones. 

How do you reduce the sugar in you diet? Eliminating certain foods, such as processed foods, sodas, sugary cereals, cookies and ice cream, is an easy and obvious way to start. Following are 6 more ways to  cut back on sugar:                                                                                                                     1. READ LABELS: There are more than 70 different names for sugar. Look closely at ingredients list on any packaged food you buy for words like sucrose, barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, agave, and cane juice.

2. BUY PLAIN: Flavored foods are often code for “sugar added”.  If a strawberry flavored yogurt has 15 grams of sugars, there’s no way to tell how much is from added sugars and how much is from the naturally occurring lactose. Stick with the plain version, and it will be easy to see that all 4 grams of the sugars are natural and supposed to be there. Add flavor with whole fruit.  This way, you get to be in control of how much sweetness is added to your food.                                        

3.  DROP DRINKABLE SUGAR:  Almost half of Americans’ added sugars intake comes from drinks. Limit beverages like soda, iced teas, flavored coffee drinks, lemonade, and fruit punch. Even healthy-sounding drinks like kombucha and vitamin waters have added sugar.                      

4. SKIP JUICES & SMOOTHIES:  Without fiber to buffer the sugar load, the natural fructose in, say, an orange, is a very different animal. A cup of juice can be equivalent to about four oranges—an amount you’d be pretty unlikely to eat in whole-fruit form. As for smoothies, they’re a step in the right direction since they contain the whole fruit—but research from Purdue University found that liquid calories aren’t as filling as chewable ones. And by blending fruit into a pulp, it’s easy to get more fructose than you’re bargaining for.                                                

5. CUT THE CONDIMENTS: Ketchup, barbecue sauce, flavored vinegars, and some mustards (like honey mustard) can be loaded with sugar. Read labels to be certain there are no surprises—Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, and hot sauce are usually good options.  

6. ADD HERBS, SPICES, AND EXTRACTS: They’re flavorful and low-calorie additions to any meal. Cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, and nutmeg are some of “sweet” spices, and can be added to oatmeal or yogurt instead of sugar.


Belly Fat

April 14th, 2017

Belly fat goes deeper than the fact that your pants are perhaps too tight.  Almost nine out of 10 people are not aware of the risks of carrying extra fat around their waistline and regardless of your overall weight, having a large amount of belly fat is not healthy. Body fat comes in two varieties:

Subcutaneous fat: This is the noticeable layer of fat that lies just below the skin in most of your body, it jiggles, dimples, and causes cellulite. It has been discovered subcutaneous fat can actually improve glucose metabolism and communicate with your organs to elicit beneficial effects.

Visceral fat: This is found deeper inside the abdomen, under your abdominal muscle and around the organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines. The danger of visceral fat is related to the release of proteins and hormones that can affect how your body breaks down sugars and fats and can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries, leading to heart disease. The proximity of visceral fat to your liver boosts production of LDL (Bad) cholesterol, that collects in the arteries and forms plaque. Over time, plaque becomes inflamed, causing swelling that narrows the arteries, restricting the passage of blood. The narrowing passageways increase blood pressure, that strains the heart and potentially damages tiny capillaries. The inflammation further increases the risk of blood clots that cause stroke. In addition to heart disease and stroke, visceral fat is linked to Type 2 diabetes,  sleep apnea, and other chronic diseases. Eric Jacobs, PhD, a researcher at the American Cancer Society, says that in recent years scientists have also uncovered links between belly fat and cancers of the colon, esophagus and pancreas.

Determining your belly size: So how do you know if you have too much belly fat? Measure your waist:

  • Stand and place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone.
  • Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you, but doesn’t push into your skin. Make sure the tape measure is level all the way around.
  • Relax, exhale and measure your waist, resisting the urge to suck in your stomach.

For men, a waist measurement of more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) and for women, a waist measurement of more than 35 inches (88 centimeters) indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of health problems. 

Belly Fat Reduction/Prevention:

Include physical activity in your daily routine: For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, biking, swimming, or anything that gets your heart rate up, for at least 75 minutes a week. A recent study from Duke found that jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week will help you lose belly fat. In addition, strength training exercises are recommended at least twice a week. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you might need to exercise more.

Eat a healthy diet: Emphasize plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains and increase your soluble fiber intake by 10 grams a day (the equivalent of two small apples, one cup of green peas, and one half cup of pinto beans). Choose lean sources of protein such as fish and low-fat dairy products.  Also limit processed meats. Choose moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — found in fish, nuts and certain vegetable oils. Limit saturated fat, found in meat and high-fat dairy products, such as cheese and butter. Saturated fat packs on more visceral fat than polyunsaturated ones. 

Avoid sugar:  Soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, coffee drinks, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, doughnuts, granola bars, chocolate, ice cream, sweetened yogurt, cereal, candy. The list of sweet temptations is endless. The average American now consumes 22 to 28 teaspoons of added sugars a day—mostly high-fructose corn syrup and ordinary table sugar (sucrose). That’s 350 to 440 empty calories that few of us can afford. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 100 calories per day of added sugars for most women, and 150 calories per day for most men. 

Sugar causes heart attacks, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia, and is the leading cause of liver failure in America. The biggest culprit are sugar-sweetened beverages including sodas, juices, sports drinks, teas and coffees. They are by far the single biggest source of sugar calories in our diet. Drinking sugary beverages appears to boost liver, muscle, and visceral fat. While excess fat anywhere in the body increases the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes, a fatty liver and visceral fat increases your risk of heart disease.

Reduce your overall sugar intake and try replacing sugary beverages with naturally calorie-free options such as water, tea or black coffee. Skip the diet soda, as a study published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society noted that this type of soda may be associated with increases in waist circumference, and thus potentially visceral fat as well.

Alcohol: Drinking excess alcohol can cause you to gain belly fat — the beer belly. However, beer alone isn’t to blame. Drinking too much alcohol of any kind can increase belly fat, because alcohol contains calories. If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. The less you drink, the fewer calories you’ll consume and the less likely you’ll gain belly fat.

Sleep: Routinely squeaking by on five hours or less per night increases visceral fat levels, according to a 2010 Wake Forest University study. As you likely already know, 8 is the number to aim for and is ideal for losing belly fat. 

Reduce stress: When the stress hormone cortisol goes through your body, fat deposits relocate to your belly area. Exercise and meditation can both be great ways to dial down your stress to nontoxic levels.

Your genetic makeup is responsible for some of the amount of visceral fat you carry. However, research shows that both your diet and your level of physical activity contribute to your level of visceral fat. People who consume large amounts of calories and people who perform little or no physical activity are likely to have high visceral fat stores.

Aging does play a role too. As you age, you lose muscle — especially if you’re not physically active. Loss of muscle mass decreases the rate at which your body uses calories, which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men in their 50s need about 200 fewer calories daily than they do in their 30s due to this muscle loss.





Seven Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy

April 5th, 2017

Preventing heart disease requires paying attention to many aspects of your life. Consider these 7 way to improve the health of your heart.

1. Avoid smoking and using tobacco products. The relationship between smoking and lung cancer is known, but smoking can also cause heart disease, stroke and other chronic lung diseases. Cigarette smoking may be to blame for one in five cardiovascular disease deaths. Smoking damages blood vessels and heart tissue, lowers good cholesterol (HDL), and contributes to high blood pressure. Smoking can also increase your risk for cancer of the bladder, throat and mouth, kidneys, cervix and pancreas, and is also linked to insulin resistance and diabetes. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States.

2. Be physically active every day.  Your heart is a muscle that needs to be worked regularly to stay strong and healthy. If you’re not burning calories, you’re storing them – as fat. Too much of this means higher triglycerides and LDL – both bad for your heart. At a minimum, 30 minutes of daily exercise can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet.  A healthy diet is one of the best ways to fight cardiovascular disease. A heart-healthy diet should include whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish & skinless poultry, nuts and legumes and a variety of fruits and vegetables. A recent European study reported that eating eight servings of vegetables and fruits per day reduces the risk of heart disease by 22 percent. Eight servings sounds like a lot, but it’s not when you consider what a portion size really is: one small carrot, half a banana or one small apple. By incorporating a portion or two of vegetables and fruits into each meal or snack, you can easily reach this target.

4. Keep a healthy weight.  Heart disease is higher in persons who are overweight or obese and can lead to heart attack and death. Carrying extra weight can raise your blood pressure, elevate your triglycerides, decrease HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, and put you at risk for other serious conditions, like diabetes and cancer. To keep your weight down, be mindful about diet and exercise. If you need help, speak with your doctor or consult a nutritionist.

5. Keep your blood pressure healthy.  High blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is when the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high. The damage to your blood vessels from undetected or uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other serious health threats. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer. Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers:    

  • Systolic blood pressure (the upper number) — indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats.        
  • Diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) — indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.

A normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm HG and above 90/60 mm HG. Know your numbers!


6. Keep your total cholesterol healthy.  Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body, and especially your liver, makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through the blood. But cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Your liver produces more cholesterol when you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats (Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Saturated fats that are solid at room temperature. Trans fats are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.).  Try to eat more unsaturated fats, such as olive or canola oil, and less saturated fats, such as red meat or butter.

There are two types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad.” When too much LDL (bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, cholesterol can form a thick, hard deposit called plaque that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can result. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. All adults age 20 or older should have their cholesterol checked every four to six years.

7. Keep your blood sugar healthy.  Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves, and increase the risk of diabetes. Diabetes alone is a very serious risk factor for heart disease. To control your blood sugar eat breakfast, include a protein in your meals and snacks, increase whole grains and fiber in your diet, and avoid refined sugar, processed carbohydrates, sodas and artificial sweeteners. 

There are many factors that can lead to high blood pressure. Smoking, being overweight, a lack of physical activity, too much salt in the diet, high alcohol consumption (more than 1-2 drinks per day), and stress are factors that can be controlled by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.