Heart Beat August 2013 Issue

Heart Beat: August 2013

A large, observational study of middle-aged Americans found that vegetarians were 12 percent less likely to die within the next six years than their meat-eating counterparts. Study participants classified as vegetarians ranged from those who were vegans to those who ate meat once a week. Men who ate a vegetarian diet saw an especially lower risk of dying from ischemic heart disease or cardiovascular disease. The research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine. However, experts familiar with the study noted that it was an observational study, meaning cause-and-effect conclusions can’t necessarily be drawn from the findings. Many of the vegetarians in the study, for example, may have exercised more than the people who ate meat regularly, which would also contribute to the rates of heart disease. Still, the study does support generally accepted notions about a heart-healthy diet—that eating primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes is good for the heart, while too much saturated fat, such as that found in red meat, is not heart healthy..

Individuals who have had at least one stroke can reduce their risk of a subsequent stroke by nearly 20 percent if they can maintain a systolic blood pressure of less than 130 mm Hg, according to a study presented at the International Stroke Conference in June. The systolic blood pressure is the top number on your blood pressure reading. Researchers found that reducing blood pressure to this level was associated with a two-thirds reduction in hemorrhagic stroke risk. Researchers say the findings are encouraging, but that blood pressure targets should remain individualized, and that the question of exactly “how low should you go” remains unanswered. Talk with your doctor about specific blood pressure goals, and if you’re not quite reaching them, ask whether a different medication regimen and other lifestyle changes could make a difference.

If you’re contemplating bringing a dog into your home, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that a new pet may be just the thing to help keep your heart healthy. The AHA issued a statement earlier this year that owning a pet, especially a dog, appears to be associated with a decreased cardiovascular disease risk. The statement went on to suggest pet ownership may actually have a causal role in reducing heart disease. The AHA based its recommendations on data that shows dog owners tend to walk more and be generally more active than those who don’t own dogs, and that research has shown how pets can help reduce mental stress, which in turn can have a positive impact on heart rate, blood pressure and the release of adrenaline-like hormones. The AHA also noted, however, that adopting a dog or adding a pet to the family should not replace other behaviors proven to reduce heart risks, such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, blood pressure and cholesterol control, and, when appropriate, taking medications as advised by your doctor.  

New research shows that aspirin is as effective as dalteparin in the prevention of venous-thromboembolism (VTE) after total hip replacement surgery, according to a study published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Dalteparin is an anticoagulant that is usually administered as a shot, often after surgery when the risk of a blood clot forming in the pelvis and legs is especially high. A VTE is a blood clot that forms in a vein in the lower extremities, and is especially dangerous because it could break loose and travel to the lungs, where it would become a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. In the study, researchers found that a daily dose of 81 mg of aspirin led to similar outcomes as 5,000 units of dalteparin after elective hip surgery. Researchers say the findings are significant because aspirin is much cheaper than dalteparin, is easier to administer, and according to the study results, presents a lower risk of bleeding. Researchers also noted that many older adults already take aspirin daily, so they would just be enjoying another benefit from a practice in which they already engage.

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