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Cold Weather Increases Heart Failure Risk, Says New Study

Dropping temperatures and changes in atmospheric pressure can lead to an increase in the risk of heart failure for elderly people, according to a large-scale study – and more care needs to be taken to counter the effects.

Previous research has shown that changes in the weather can affect the health of vulnerable people – for example, heat waves and cold spells have been shown to increase disease and even lead to death in people from low-income neighborhoods. The new study, led by researchers at Université Laval and Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, reveals the impact of changes in temperature and air pressure on heart failure patients.

“We know that doctors rarely take the weather forecast into account when treating or making recommendations to heart failure patients,” said Prof. Pierre Gosselin, lead author of the study from Universitié Laval in Canada. “So with the extreme differences in temperature due to climate change, we wanted to show how the weather is becoming a more relevant factor. Our study shows that exposure to cold or high-pressure weather could trigger events leading to hospitalization or death in heart failure patients.”

Treating heart failure patients is expensive: according to the Institut Canadien d’Information sur la Santé, people over 65 accounted for 78 percent of patients with the most expensive hospitalization costs per diagnosis between 2011 and 2012 in Canada. Of these, the cost of heart failure ranked third and was estimated at CAN$276 million.

In the new study, the team assessed 112,793 people aged 65 years and older that had been diagnosed with heart failure in Quebec between 2001 and 2011. Patients with heart failure were identified in the Quebec Integrated Chronic Disease Surveillance System (QICDSS) database using the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

The participants were followed for an average of 635 days. During this time, the researchers measured the mean temperature, relative humidity, atmospheric pressure and air pollutants in the surrounding environment and studied the data to see if there was an association.

The results showed a higher risk of hospitalization or death in the winter period of the year (October to April) compared to the summer period (May to September).

The researchers noticed that the risk to experience hospitalization or death of heart failure cause was increased of 0.7 percent for every 1°C decrease in the mean temperature of the previous seven days. They also found that the risk of heart failure incident increased by 4.5 percent for each increase of 1 kPa in atmospheric pressure.

In other words, a drop of 10°C in the average temperature over seven days, which is common in several countries because of seasonal variations, is associated with an increased risk in being hospitalized or dying of heart failure of about 7 percent in people aged over 65 diagnosed with the disease.

During the follow-up period, 21,157 heart failure events occurred, representing 18.7 percent of the people studied. In total, 18,309 people were hospitalized and 4,297 died. In some cases, hospitalization and death occurred the same day. The researchers calculated this to 0.03 percent of patients experiencing an incident per day, which extends to about 1500 hospitalizations or deaths over a 10-year period, or 150 events per year.

Prof. Gosselin and the team suggest that elderly with heart failure should be given support and access to preventive measures, especially since managing heart failure is expensive for society. He commented:

“Our study suggests that exposure to cold or high-pressure weather could trigger events leading to hospitalization or death in heart failure patients. This means that they should avoid exposure to fog and low cloud weather in winter as they often accompany high pressure systems.”

Sep 28, 2017
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Study Shows Why It’s Massively Important to Have a Good Attitude

Positive thinking may reduce your risk of this deadly disease

Could a grin on your face be your ticker’s saving grace? 

In a new study at Penn State University, scientists looked at more than 1,000 people with coronary heart disease over a 5-year period. Patients who reported having higher levels of positive emotions like determination, excitement, and enthusiasm were more likely to exercise, sleep better, and avoid smoking.

Not surprisingly, those three measures can all reduce your risk of heart disease, according to previous research.

Although the people in this study already had heart problems—and their positive attitudes helped them maintain better health behaviors—other research pegs happiness as a proven preventative tool. A study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that positive well-being was associated with nearly a one-third reduction of coronary artery disease.

The scientists aren’t exactly sure why people with better attitudes are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, but they have a few theories.

Happier people may be more motivated to carry out and stick to health routines, adjust health-related goals, or cope with the setbacks of having ticker trouble, says study author Nancy Sin, Ph.D.

The most encouraging part of the findings is that the people who had great outlooks weren’t necessarily that way from the start. Patients who increased their positive emotions as the study went on were more likely to keep up healthy behaviors.

Stress and depression tend to hog all the headlines when it comes to factors that influence our health. So we tend to overlook the huge impact that positive thinking can have, says Sin.

But as the study shows, you can always turn your attitude around. “Start with small changes in your life,” says Sin.

BY JADA GREEN October 14, 2015


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8 Ways to Stay Energized All Day

It’s no wonder so many of us struggle with energy issues. We go, go, go from morning to night, running on little but grit and caffeine. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “The reality is, you can get a real boost by making a few simple changes,” says Dr. Nada Milosavljevic, director of the integrative health program at Massachusetts General Hospital. That’s why we put together this complete guide to all-day energy: It’s packed with proven strategies that will keep you powered up as you plow through your to-do list. You’ll also learn about surprising energy drains (social media, we’re looking at you)—and how to keep them from stealing your mojo.

Keep allergies under control

People with hay fever often feel sluggish. “You spend so much time trying to breathe, you don’t have energy for anything else,” says New Jersey-based allergist Dr. Neeta Ogden, spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Your congestion might also keep you awake at night: French researchers found that more than 40 percent of seasonal-allergy sufferers reported they weren’t able to get a good night’s sleep when their symptoms flared.

Studies have shown that over-the-counter nasal steroid sprays (like Nasacort and Flonase) effectively relieve congestion and improve quality of life—including fatigue and sleep issues—in people with seasonal allergies. Ogden suggests pairing a spray with a daily dose of an OTC nonsedating antihistamine (such as Claritin or Allegra); the drug will block the action of histamine, the compound that triggers pesky nasal symptoms. For best results, begin treatment a couple of weeks before sniffle season starts.

Get enough (quality) sleep

It’s estimated that up to 26 percent of all adults in the U.S. have sleep apnea, a disorder that involves shallow breathing or pauses in breathing while you sleep. If you’re among them, you may often feel like you’re in a “brain fog,” even if you’re clocking seven hours of shut-eye a night. If your primary care physician suspects sleep apnea, she can refer you to a sleep center. Most cases can be diagnosed with an at-home test, says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Southern California and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Mild cases can often be treated with lifestyle modifications, such as losing weight and avoiding alcohol before bed. Moderate or severe cases may require sleeping with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which supplies a steady stream of air to keep your airways open.

Exercise

A sweat session is great for upping your oomph, even when you feel like you’re out of juice. “When you exercise, you release hormones like adrenaline. This hormone actually tells our bodies to ignore feelings of pain and fatigue while enhancing blood flow to large muscles,” says Sabrena Jo, senior exercise scientist at the American Council on Exercise. As a result, a workout can leave you with more energy than you had beforehand—an effect that can last several hours.

And it doesn’t take much. One study looked at healthy, sedentary people who began exercising three days a week for just 20 minutes a day, at either a moderate or a low intensity. By the end of six weeks, their energy levels were 20 percent higher than those of a control group of nonexercisers.
Remember: The idea is to leave the gym energized, not exhausted. “If you feel beaten down by the time you step off the treadmill, it’s a sign you need to scale back,” says Jo.

 

Get adequate vitamin D

Research suggests this key vitamin plays a role in keeping us charged up. Experts suspect D helps regulate insulin secretion and metabolism, both of which affect energy levels. The nutrient has also been linked to better moods (not to mention a slew of other health benefits). If you find yourself constantly dragging, particularly in the winter, it might be worth asking your doc to check your D levels. Since it can be tough to get an adequate amount from food (sources include fatty fish, eggs, and fortified milk), she may recommend a supplement.

Purge your Facebook friends

There are two reasons social media can be an energy suck, says Dr. Brian Primack, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh. “On one hand, you look at everyone’s curated photos and get depressed because your life doesn’t look so perfect,” he explains. “But on the other hand, anything that’s negative also gets magnified. Neither extreme is good.” Indeed, one of his studies found a link between the amount of time spent on social media and the likelihood of depression.

Not ready to cut the Facebook cord? Try paring your “friends” down to your actual friends. “When you don’t know someone, you’re more likely to have a miscommunication or be upset by something in their feed,” says Primack. “But using social media to connect with old friends can have the opposite effect—it’s energizing.”

Eat to fuel

To improve your everyday energy, try this tweak: Substitute plant protein for animal protein whenever possible, suggests Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian at the NYU School of Medicine. Plants feed the “good” bacteria in your gut, she explains, which help boost your immunity to keep you healthy. They may also boost overall mood. A 2015 study found that people who followed a plant-based eating program for 18 weeks saw an increase in their productivity. Here, Heller describes a sample menu for an ideal day.

Breakfast: A Berry smoothie. Blend 1/2 cup berries with a scoop of avocado and 3/4 cup soy milk. The shake is high in both fiber and protein to stabilize your blood sugar until lunch.

Lunch: Lentil soup and kale salad. Lentils and kale are a mighty nutritional combo, offering protein, fiber, iron, potassium, zinc, folate, and more.

P.M. snack: Fruit and nuts. This duo serves up a nice balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat to help you power through the rest of the afternoon.

Dinner: Vegetarian tacos. Wrap beans with shredded lettuce and cheese, chopped tomato, avocado, and salsa in a corn tortilla for a light dinner that won’t mess with your sleep.

Try some fast pick-me-ups

Take a mini break. Stand up and stretch, or watch a funny video. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers found that people who took two short breaks during a repetitive 50-minute task performed better than those who worked straight through.

Go for a quick walk. A landmark study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that a brisk 10-minute walk can have a revitalizing effect, enhancing energy for at least two hours.

Chew a stick of gum. A 2015 U.K. study found that this trick raised alertness and improved concentration, possibly because chewing increases blood flow.

Don’t ignore fatigue

Sometimes feeling spent isn’t a problem that can be solved with a nap. Below are a few possible medical explanations for flagging energy.

Anemia. This condition, common in women, means you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues. If blood tests reveal you’re anemic, you may need to take an iron supplement.

Celiac disease. Fatigue is one of the symptoms of this serious condition, in which an autoimmune reaction to gluten damages the intestines. If blood tests suggest celiac, you’ll need an intestinal biopsy to diagnose it. The only proven therapy is a gluten-free diet.
Hypothyroidism. “If your body isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone, you’re going to feel like you’re running low on fuel all the time,” says Milosavljevic. This disorder can be treated with synthetic hormones.

Heart disease. A 2003 study published in Circulation found that 70 percent of women who’d suffered heart attacks had reported feeling unusual fatigue for up to a month beforehand. “Patients often say that they feel tired in their chest,” says Dr. Dana Simpler, an internist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. After a full workup, your doc can prescribe a treatment plan.

This article originally appeared on Health.com
Hallie Levine / Health.com       May 03, 2017     TIME Health
source: time.com


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Common Painkillers Linked To Increased Risk Of Heart Attack, Study Says

Story highlights
A new study links common painkillers called to increased risk of heart attacks
Researchers urge doctors and patients to weight the risks and benefits
The drugs are not proved to be a a direct cause of heart attacks

(CNN)Taking even over-the-counter doses of common painkillers known as NSAIDs – nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack in a new study.

The likelihood of experiencing a heart attack was calculated to increase by an average of 20% to 50%, compared with someone not taking the drugs, regardless of the dosage and amount of time the medications are taken.

The findings are observational and based on an association, however, with the drugs not proved to be a a direct cause of heart attack.

This group of drugs includes ibuprofen, diclofenac, celecoxib and naproxen, which are available over the counter or by prescription for higher doses, to relieve pain or fever resulting from a range of causes, including flu, headaches, back pain and menstrual cramps. Their range of uses also means they are often taken as needed, for short periods of time.

The level of risk increased as early as one week into the use of any drug in this category and at any dose, and the risk associated with taking higher doses was greatest within the first month.
“We found that all common NSAIDs shared a heightened risk of heart attack,” said Dr. Michèle Bally, an epidemiologist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center, who led the research. “There is a perception that naproxen has the lowest cardiovascular risk (among the NSAIDs), but that’s not true.”

Researchers’ overall finding was that taking any dosage of these drugs for one week, one month or longer was linked to an increased risk of a heart attack. The risk appeared to decline when these painkillers were no longer taken, with a slight decline one to 30 days after use and a greater decline, falling below 11%, between 30 days and one year after use.

Based on the paper, published Tuesday in the BMJ, Bally’s team suggests that doctors and patients weigh the potential harms and benefits before relying on the drugs as a treatment option.

“People minimize the risks because drugs are over the counter and they don’t read labels,” Bally said. “Why not consider all treatment options? … Every therapeutic decision is a balance of benefits and risk.”

Building on previous research

Cardiovascular diseases are the No. 1 cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization, with 80% of all deaths in this category due to heart attacks and strokes. Each year, it’s estimated that 735,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. In the United Kingdom, more than 200,000 hospital visits each year are due to a heart attack.

Previous research has showed that this class of painkillers could increase the risk of having a heart attack, known as myocardial infarction. In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration called on drugmakers to update their warnings labels to identify an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.

But the specifics in terms of timing, dosage and treatment durations were less clear.

Bally and her team reviewed all available studies in this area from Canadian and European databases, analyzing the findings from 446,763 people, with 61,460 of them having had a heart attack. Their goal was to calculate the risk, determinants and time course of heart attacks associated with the use of NSAIDs under typical circumstances.

The team looked at very short-term use and at any dose, said Bally. “In real life, people use drugs at low doses and use them on and off,” she said, adding that this is not reflected in many clinical trials, for example, in which people have often been monitored during prolonged use of these drugs.

When using them for one week, the greatest risk was associated with rofecoxib, followed by diclofenac, ibuprofen and then celecoxib, respectively, though all except celecoxib had similar levels of risk, hovering around 50% increased odds of a heart attack, at any dose.

At higher doses, typically needing a prescription, some drugs had an even greater risk of heart attack between one week and one month of use. For example, naproxen showed a 75% increased likelihood of a heart attack within one month with doses of 1200 milligrams per day or more, and naproxen showed an 83% increased likelihood of a heart attack with doses greater than 750 milligrams per day when taken for one week to one month.

But the level of risk declined, on average, when the drugs were used for longer than one month.

“This is relative to not taking these drugs, your baseline risk,” Bally said. “The risk is not 75%. It’s an increase (maybe) from a tiny baseline risk that they have.”
Millions of these pills are sold every year, Bally said. “Therefore the risk, no matter how small or relative, is important to note from a population viewpoint.”
“We already know that these drugs increase your risk of having a heart attack,” said Dr. Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, in a statement. “However this large-scale study worryingly highlights just how quickly you become at risk of having a heart attack after starting NSAIDs.” Knapton was not involved in the research.

Knapton further added that people must be made aware of the risk and that alternative medication or treatment should be considered where appropriate. For example, physical therapy or yoga could be used to alleviate pain from an injury.

nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Association, not causation

The researchers stress that the findings are purely observational, as they used readily available data about certain populations. Not all potentially influential factors could be taken into account, they say.

Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, commented that a number of lifestyle factors, such as smoking and body mass index, are not available in the data about the study participants. “It leads to uncertainty,” he said.

Tobacco use, unhealthy diet, obesity, alcohol abuse and hypertension are just a few of many factors that can cause a heart attack.

“This is the largest study of its kind, but it is still observational data based on prescription or dispensing information, rather than whether people were actually taking their medication,” said Dr. Amitava Banerjee, senior clinical lecturer in clinical data science at UCL in the UK. “Although these data reflect real-world use of NSAIDs, it is impossible to control for all the factors which may lead to confounding or bias.”

This uncertainty combined with the overall observational nature of the findings means the cause of the increased risk shown in the analysis cannot be explained, nor can the drugs be directly stated as a cause of heart attacks.

Bally thinks a cause could be changes in blood pressure or effects on kidney function, as these areas are poorly studied. But she stresses that all five drugs studied have individual behaviors. “It will be hard to point to one factor,” she said.

Relative, not absolute risk

“The paper has good evidence that there is some risk of a heart attack for all NSAIDs and suggests that the risk starts immediately on starting them, but is only expressed in relative terms,” said Evans, who was not involved in the research. “There is no clear description of the absolute risk.”

The findings are based on the chances of a heart attack occurring in people taking these drugs, compared with those not taking them. If risk was already low in a person, a 20% to 50% increased risk is not that much cause for concern.

“The risks are relatively small, and for most people who are not at high risk of a heart attack, these findings have minimal implications,” Evans said.

It’s also possible that people taking these drugs are, on average, already at higher risk than people not taking the drugs, he said, commenting that the study did not account for these factors in their calculations. For example, the reason someone is prescribed an NSAID, such as for severe pain, may also be the reason they have a heart attack soon after. So while the study shows that risk of a heart attack increases as soon as a few days into taking NSAIDs, the links may not be as clear as suggested, Evans said.

“The most likely mechanisms for action of the drugs would be expected to show a low risk at the start and only have an effect on heart attacks after longer usage. That this wasn’t the case casts some doubt on the findings of an immediate increase in risk,” he said.
“All effective medicines have unwanted effects, and NSAIDs, although easily available, are not without some risks, but this study is no reason to induce anxiety in most users of these drugs,” he said.

But while waiting for more clarity on the true level of risk and its cause, experts still advise caution when prescribing or taking these painkillers.

“The increased risk of heart attack with NSAIDs, regardless of which one, means that both health professionals and the public should weigh up the harm and the benefit when prescribing these medications, especially for more than a day or two,” Banerjee said.
“Despite the over-the-counter availability of the traditional NSAIDs, this caution is still required. The mechanism of this increased risk of heart attack is not at all clear from existing studies.”

By Meera Senthilingam, CNN         May 9, 2017
 source: www.cnn.com


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Could a Daily Vitamin Curb Smog’s Health Effects?

Small study suggests vitamin B might help, but reducing pollution levels remains the priority

There’s a lot of evidence to show that breathing in dirty air can harm your heart. But a small new study suggests that daily vitamin B supplements might counteract that effect.

While two hours of exposure to concentrated air pollution had a negative effect on heart rate and levels of illness-fighting white blood cells, “these effects are nearly reversed with four-week B-vitamin supplementation,” according to study co-author Dr. Andrea Baccarelli. He’s chair of environmental health sciences at Columbia University in New York City.

One lung health expert was cautiously optimistic about the findings.

“It is interesting that pretreating with B vitamins may prevent some of the deleterious effects of exposure to this pollution,” said Dr. Alan Mensch, senior vice president of medical affairs at Northwell Heath’s Plainview Hospital in Plainview, N.Y.
“It must be kept in mind, however, that since this study only included 10 healthy patients, it might not be applicable to an entire population,” he added. Plus, preventing air pollution in the first place “takes precedent over developing methods to prevent its deleterious effects,” he said.

The new research involved 10 healthy nonsmokers, aged 18 to 60, who took a placebo for four weeks before being exposed to fine-particulate air pollution for two hours.

The “fine particulates” – microscopic specks – were 2.5 micrometers in diameter, the researchers said.

Inhalable particles that are “2.5 micrometers or smaller are potentially the most dangerous form of air pollution due to their ability to penetrate deep in the lungs and adjacent bloodstream,” Mensch explained. Once inhaled, “they can travel to various organs throughout the body,” he added, causing inflammation and ill effects on cardiovascular health.

“Populations exposed to high particulate-associated air pollution have increased heart attacks, lung cancer, DNA mutations, and premature births and deaths,” Mensch said.

Overall, fine-particle pollution contributes to 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide each year, mainly through harm to the cardiovascular system. This type of air pollution is believed to be the most common trigger for heart attack, the study authors noted.

But could a simple daily vitamin supplement help curb this smog-linked damage?

To find out, Baccarelli’s group gave the 10 participants vitamin B supplements for four weeks before again exposing them to the fine-particle air pollution for another two hours.

This time, the vitamin B supplements were linked to a near-reversal of the negative effects of the pollution on the volunteers’ cardiovascular and immune systems, the researchers said. This included healthy changes in each person’s heart rate and their white blood cell levels.

Baccarelli stressed that preventing pollution should always be the first measure in safeguarding people’s health, however.

“Pollution regulation remains the backbone of public health protection against its cardiovascular health effects,” he said in a university news release. “Studies like ours cannot diminish — nor be used to underemphasize — the urgent need to lower air pollution levels to — at a minimum — meet the air-quality standards set forth in the United States and other countries.”

Another lung expert agreed that the vitamin supplements could help blunt the health effects of dirty air.

The new study is “evidence that vitamin B provides benefits against the development of atherosclerosis in healthy adults who are exposed to air pollution,” said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

While it remains unclear just how the supplement works in this regard, “this finding recommends vitamin B, which is of course safe and has no side effects, as a buffer against coronary artery disease,” Horovitz said.

The study was published online recently in the journal Scientific Reports.

 
By Robert Preidt       HealthDay Reporter       FRIDAY, April 14, 2017
Sources: Alan Mensch, M.D., senior vice president of medical affairs,  Northwell Health’s Plainview and Syosset Hospitals, N.Y.;  Len Horovitz, M.D., pulmonary specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Columbia University, news release, April 12, 2017        WebMD News from HealthDay  


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Trans Fat Bans May Have Cut Heart Attacks, Strokes

Pending FDA regulations should remove nearly all of this unhealthy substance from your diet, experts say

Could the contents of your cupcake affect your heart attack risk?

It seems so, according to a new study that found lower rates of heart attack and stroke in communities that restrict trans fats in foods.

Trans fats, which are found in products such as baked goods, chips, crackers and fried foods, have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. In response, some U.S. cities have implemented policies to reduce trans fats in restaurant food.

“Our study highlights the power of public policy to impact the cardiovascular health of a population. Trans fats are deleterious for cardiovascular health, and minimizing or eliminating them from the diet can substantially reduce rates of heart attack and stroke,” said study author Dr. Eric Brandt. He’s a clinical fellow in cardiovascular medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.

The researchers compared 2002-13 data from New York counties with and without restrictions on trans fats.

The study found a 6 percent decline in hospitalizations for heart attack and stroke in areas with trans fat restrictions compared to those without within three years of implementing no trans fat policies.

“It is a pretty substantial decline,” Brandt said.

Although the study found a link between trans fat restrictions and a lower heart attack and stroke risk, it’s important to note that the study wasn’t designed to prove a direct cause-and-effect link.

In 2018, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration ban on partially hydrogenated oil in foods will nearly eliminate dietary trans fats nationwide.

The study findings suggest that the FDA’s move to restrict trans fats in all foods will have widespread benefits, according to Brandt.

“Even though some companies have reduced the amount of trans fat in food, current FDA labeling guidelines allow up to 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving to be labeled as 0 grams, leaving consumers to scour labels for hidden trans fats, usually labeled as partially hydrogenated oils,” Brandt explained in a Yale news release.
“With the upcoming FDA regulation, people need not be so vigilant. A nationwide trans fat ban is a win for the millions of people at risk for cardiovascular disease,” he said.

The study was published April 12 in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, April 12, 2017

 

By Robert Preidt       HealthDay Reporter
 
WEDNESDAY, April 12, 2017      HealthDay News       WebMD News from HealthDay
 
source: www.webmd.com


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7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health.

Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet.

Studies show that dark chocolate (not the sugary crap) can improve health and lower the risk of heart disease.

1. Dark Chocolate is Very Nutritious

If you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, then it is actually quite nutritious.

It contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals.

A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:

  • 11 grams of fiber.
  • 67% of the RDA for Iron.
  • 58% of the RDA for Magnesium.
  • 89% of the RDA for Copper.
  • 98% of the RDA for Manganese.

It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
Of course, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) is a fairly large amount and not something you should be consuming daily. All these nutrients also come with 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugar.

For this reason, dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation.

The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates.

It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, but is unlikely to keep you awake at night as the amount of caffeine is very small compared to coffee.

Bottom Line: Quality dark chocolate is rich in Fiber, Iron, Magnesium, Copper, Manganese and a few other minerals.

2. Dark Chocolate is a Powerful Source of Antioxidants

Have you ever heard of a measure called ORAC?

ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods.

Basically, researchers pit a bunch of free radicals (bad) against a sample of food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can “disarm” them.

The biological relevance of this metric is questioned, because it’s done in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body.

However, I think it is worth mentioning that raw, unprocessed cocoa beans are among the highest scoring foods that have been tested.

Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others.

One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than other fruits they tested, which included blueberries and Acai berries.

Bottom Line: Cocoa and dark chocolate have a wide variety of powerful antioxidants, way more than most other foods.

3. Dark Chocolate May Improve Blood Flow and Lower Blood Pressure

The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce Nitric Oxide (NO), which is a gas.

One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.

There are many controlled trials showing that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, but the effects are usually mild.

However, there is also one study in people with elevated blood pressure that showed no effect, so take all this with a grain of salt.

Bottom Line: The bioactive compounds in cocoa can improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.

 

chocolate

4. Dark Chocolate Raises HDL and Protects LDL Against Oxidation

Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease.

In a controlled trial, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in men.

It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL in men with elevated cholesterol.

Oxidized LDL means that the LDL (“bad” cholesterol) has reacted with free radicals.

This makes the LDL particle itself reactive and capable of damaging other tissues… such as the lining of the arteries in your heart.

It makes perfect sense that cocoa lowers oxidized LDL. It contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants that do make it into the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage.

Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Bottom Line: Dark chocolate improves several important risk factors for disease. It lowers the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative damage while increasing HDL and improving insulin sensitivity.

5. Dark Chocolate May Lower The Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

The compounds in dark chocolate appear to be highly protective against the oxidation of LDL.

In the long term, this should cause much less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries and we should see a lower risk of heart disease over the long term.

It turns out that we have several long-term observational studies that show a fairly drastic improvement.

In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by a whopping 50% over a 15 year period.

Another study revealed that eating chocolate 2 or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%. Eating chocolate less frequently had no effect.

Yet another study showed that chocolate 5+ times per week lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 57%.

Of course, these 3 studies are so-called observational studies that can not prove that it was the chocolate that caused the reduction in risk.

However, given that we have a biological mechanism (lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL) then I find it plausible that regular consumption of dark chocolate can in fact reduce the risk of heart disease.

Bottom Line: Observational studies show a drastic reduction in heart disease risk for the people who consume the most chocolate.

6. Dark Chocolate May Protect Your Skin Against The Sun

The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin.

The flavonols can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.

The minimal erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays required to cause redness in the skin, 24 hours after exposure.

In one study of 30 people, the MED more than doubled after consuming dark chocolate high in flavanols for 12 weeks.

If you’re planning on a beach vacation, consider loading up on dark chocolate in the prior weeks and months.

Bottom Line: Studies show that the flavanols from cocoa can improve blood flow to the skin and protect it against sun-induced damage.

7. Dark Chocolate May Improve Brain Function

The good news isn’t over yet. Dark chocolate may also improve the function of the brain.

One study of healthy volunteers showed that 5 days of consuming high-flavanol cocoa improved blood flow to the brain.

Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It also improves verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease.

Cocoa also contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason cocoa can improve brain function in the short term .

Take Home Message

There is considerable evidence that cocoa can provide powerful health benefits, being especially protective against cardiovascular disease.

But of course, this doesn’t mean people should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day. It is still loaded with calories and easy to overeat on. Maybe have a square or two after dinner and try to really savor them.

Be aware that a lot of the chocolate on the market is crap. You need to choose quality stuff… organic, dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content.

Dark chocolates often contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.

There are of course other benefits to chocolate that I have not mentioned… such as the awesome taste.

By Kris Gunnars, BSc