Heart Beat: April 2017


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Mediterranean Diet with Olive Oil May Help Boost “Good” Cholesterol Function

A Mediterranean diet, which is an eating plan that focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, nuts, lentils, and little or no red meat and added sugars, has long been recommended for better heart health. But a recent study suggests that eating a Mediterranean diet enhanced with virgin olive oil may help improve the function of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. HDL helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream. LDL is the type of cholesterol that that forms dangerous plaques in the arteries. A study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation compared HDL function in people (average age 66) who followed one of three specific diets for a year. One group ate a Mediterranean diet enhanced with nuts (about a fistful each day), another group ate a Mediterranean diet enhanced with four tablespoons of virgin olive oil per day, and the third group (the control group) consumed a healthy diet that limited red meat, added sugars and processed foods. Participants in the control group were the only ones to see their LDL levels go down slightly. No diet increased HDL levels, but people who followed the Mediterranean diets experienced noticeable improvements in their HDL function. HDL not only helps rid the bloodstream of LDL cholesterol, but it may help reduce the oxidation of LDL, which is a key mechanism in the depositing of plaque in the arteries. HDL may also help keep arteries open and flexible, improving circulation. The improvement was most significant in the group that enhanced their diet with additional virgin olive oil. Researchers suggest that eating a Mediterranean diet could help protect cardiovascular health in several ways.

Study of Anticoagulant Rivaroxaban Stopped Early Because of Encouraging Results

Daily antithrombotic treatment that includes the warfarin (Coumadin) alternative rivaroxaban (Xarelto) appears to be more effective than aspirin alone in preventing heart attack and stroke in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) or peripheral artery disease (PAD), according to early results from the Cardiovascular Outcomes for People Using Anticoagulation Strategies (COMPASS) trial. Researchers actually halted the study of more than 27,000 CAD and PAD patients early because the results were so promising. Researchers followed patients who took aspirin alone, aspirin plus rivaroxaban, and rivaroxaban alone. More details of the study’s results will be released later in 2017. Rivaroxaban is one of several recently approved alternatives to warfarin, which requires frequent testing to make sure patients are taking the proper dose. Rivaroxaban doesn’t require that same level of monitoring. These medications are often taken with a daily aspirin as part of antithrombotic therapy—a preventive measure to stop the formation of blood clots in people at risk for life-threatening clots. Rivaroxaban isn’t approved for all types of cardiovascular conditions yet.

Taking TNFis May Help Lower Heart Attack Risk in People with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a risk factor for heart disease, but recent research finds that a common RA drug may help protect against heart attacks. People with RA tend to have higher levels of inflammation, which can contribute to atherosclerosis, the deposit of fatty plaques in the arteries. Over time, chronic inflammation can also harm organs and lead to other health problems. A type of anti-inflammatory drug called TNF inhibitors (TNFis) are prescribed to individuals with RA and other inflammatory conditions. In a study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, researchers found that taking TNFis was associated with a 39 percent lower heart attack risk in patients with RA. Researchers compared the health records of more than 11,000 RA patients taking TNFis with the records of about 3,000 RA patients taking synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (sDMARDs), another common RA treatment. The researchers believe that the heart attack risk reduction associated with TNFis is related either to generally reduced inflammation in the body or to direct interference with the process of atherosclerosis. If you have RA and don’t take TNFis, talk with your doctor about whether these medications would be right for you.


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