Heart Beat August 2016 Issue

Stroke Risks, Whole Grains, Blood Pressure, and Music for Anxiety

Study: Modifiable Risk Factors Make Up Majority of Stroke Burden

Unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle, and a poor diet, account for more days of stroke disability than traditional risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to a study published recently in The Lancet. Researchers also found that prolonged exposure to air pollution is a much greater contributor to the risk of stroke than previously understood. The researchers used a formula to estimate the number of days of stroke disability associated with 17 different risk factors in 188 countries. They calculated the percentage of stroke burden that would be eliminated if that risk factor were eliminated. The researchers determined that about 90 percent of stroke burden could be avoided. They called stroke a “highly preventable condition.” While the researchers acknowleged there are some limitations to this ambitious study, they noted that many risk factors overlap and affect each other. Smoking, for example, can increase blood pressure and make it difficult to maintain a physically active lifestyle. Likewise, excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to weight gain and high blood pressure, as well as interfere with sleep. Exposure to air pollution may be a more challenging risk factor to modify in your life, but one suggestion is to pay attention to air quality reports, and limit your time outdoors on days when air pollution is especially high.

Eating More Whole Grains Associated with Lower Death Risk

Including more whole grains in your diet may help reduce your odds of dying from cardiovascular disease, some cancers and many other causes. According to research published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, the risk of cardiovascular-related death dropped about nine percent with every serving (about 16 grams) of whole grains consumed daily. The cancer risk reduction estimated in the study was slightly less. Researchers recommended three servings of whole grains per day. Whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats, whole grain nutrition, and brown rice, are associated with better cholesterol control. The dietary fiber in whole grains also makes you feel full longer, which can reduce your daily calorie intake. The researchers suggested that low-carbohydrate diets, which have become popular in recent years, should be adopted with caution. These diets often overlook the health benefits of whole grains. The American Heart Association recommends that at least half of the grains you consume each day should be whole grains, rather than refined grains.

Controlling Blood Pressure Consistently May Preserve Brain Health

Individuals who had substantial blood pressure fluctuations over a five-year period experienced faster declines in cognitive function and brain health, compared with those who maintained a more consistent blood pressure during that same time. That’s according to a Chinese study published recently in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension. Variability in blood flow could damage the smaller blood vessels in the brain. Fluctuations in blood pressure could indicate inflammation and poor blood vessel function. Significant differences in systolic (top number) blood pressure from one doctor’s visit to another were associated with faster declines in verbal memory and cognitive function. Major changes in diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure readings were associated with faster cognitive declines in patients younger than age 65, but not for older patients. The researchers said their findings underscore the importance of controlling blood pressure throughout the year.

Music May Help Reduce Anxiety, Pain Among Heart Failure Patients

Listening to relaxing music every day may help you cope better emotionally and physically after a heart attack. In a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual conference on heart failure, researchers found that heart failure patients with angina (chest pain)experienced less anxiety and pain in the weeks after a heart attack if they listened to relaxing music for 12 minutes at a time, twice a day. The patients could choose their own music. For most patients, calming classical or jazz music was preferred. Interestingly, if patients chose pop music, it needed to be in a language they didn’t speak, to prevent concentration on the lyrics. The findings suggest that soothing music reduces stress in the mind and the body.

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