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Month: April 2017

Pass the Butter!

A new editorial published by a group of cardiologists in the British Journal of Sports Medicine argues that saturated fats, found in foods like butter, cheese, and meats, does not clog arteries and ultimately lead to cardiovascular disease. The doctors report that a Mediterranean-style diet, coupled with minimal stress and daily exercise, should be the primary focus for the prevention of heart disease.

The authors cite systematic reviews and observational studies that show no correlation or association between consumption of saturated fat and increased risk of heart disease. British cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, of Lister Hospital, argues that even reducing saturated fat intake in people with pre-established heart disease does not minimize the risk of heart attacks. Yet for decades, researchers, doctors, and scientists believed that cutting out saturated fat would lower cardiovascular disease—despite firmly solid evidence.

While some people have transitioned to diets of carbohydrates, these also play a role in the gradual development of cardiovascular disease. Malhotra states that eating too much pasta, bread, and potatoes will rapidly spike blood glucose levels; our bodies respond to carbs by over-producing insulin. When insulin levels are consistently and constantly too high, the hormone is unable to deliver glucose to cells, in order to provide energy. Ultimately, an inflammatory response occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin, which Malhotra and his colleagues believe is the true culprit.

The editorial sheds light upon the critical importance of diet, as a dietary imbalance of nutrients can ultimately damage arteries; the lipid, soft fat plaque that is more prone to rupturing is the ultimate cause of a sudden heart attack. The combination of a healthful diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction is considered to be the optimal way to reduce cardiovascular disease, and most other chronic diseases.

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Running Reigns Supreme

A recent review of evidence published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Disease indicates that runners live three years longer than no-runners, solidifying the hypothesis that longevity can be increased by exercise—to a substantial degree.

The research states that not only does running significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and premature death, but also demonstrates benefits even if other aspects of health are sub-par. Someone who drinks and smokes can still reduce early mortality by running: between 25% and 40%.

Running 5-10 minutes per day was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, in addition to death from any and all causes. The review’s authors state that there is no other exercise that yields such a significant impact; statistically, an hour of running will increase one’s life expectancy by seven hours—and prolong life more than other types of exercise including cycling, swimming, or walking.

The authors also confirm that even a jog counts as moderately vigorous exercise. Runners primarily have enhanced levels of aerobic fitness and lower levels of body fat, and enjoy an array of health and wellness benefits. Moreover, in terms of time, it takes 105 minutes of walking to produce the same benefits as a 25-minute run.

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Faculty Spotlight: Alan R. Saltiel, PhD

With nineteen issued patents, 290 published original papers, and thousands of citations in biochemistry literature, Alan R. Saltiel ranks among the most influential scientists in biology and biochemistry. After receiving a degree in Zoology from Duke University, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of North Carolina, Saltiel conducted research surrounding thyroid-stimulating hormones, and the relationship to thyroid cancer. As a post-doctoral fellow, Saltiel began investigating insulin, and signaling pathways in insulin action. Saltiel’s research targeted drug discovery activities in diabetes, obesity, and cancer; he was responsible for pre-clinical studies on troglitazone: the first thiazolidinedione approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Saltiel has served as Director of the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute since 2001, in addition to John Jacob Abel Professor of Life Sciences. In 2015, Saltiel created the Institute for Diabetes and Metabolic Health at the University of California, San Diego, while serving as a Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology.

Saltiel has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the Rosalyn Yalow Research and Development Award from the American Diabetes Association, Hirschl Award, and the John Jacob Abel Award from ASPET. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Saltiel will be the featured keynote speaker at CMHC’S Regional Conference Series in San Diego, delivering an address titled “Deep Dive Into Metabolic Health: Obesity, Inflammation, and Type 2 Diabetes.”

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Link Between Alzheimer’s & Vascular Disease

The more risk factors for vascular disease one has in middle age, the higher the risk may be of developing Alzheimer’s disease in later life: the conclusion of a new study published in JAMA.

Vascular disease is defined as any condition that affects the circulatory system–the vessels that carry the blood to and from the heart. Types of vascular disease include atherosclerosis, the hardening or narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup, and peripheral artery disease, the narrowing of the arteries in the limbs. Obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking are some of the common risk factors for vascular disease.

Previous studies have suggested a link between vascular disease risk factors during midlife and increased risk of later-life dementia—particularly Alzheimer’s disease—the most common form of dementia.

However, Dr. Rebecca F. Gottesman – of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD – and colleagues note that it has been unclear as to whether these risk factors are directly associated with the buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain.

Beta-amyloid is a protein associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The protein can accumulate in the brain, forming “plaques” that disrupt communication between nerve cells. With the help of positron emission tomography (PET) brain imaging, Dr. Gottesman and team sought to gain a better understanding of how risk factors for vascular disease might affectbeta-amyloid accumulation in the brain.

The researchers analyzed the data of 346 dementia-free adults who had participated in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC)-PET Amyloid Imaging Study for almost 25 years. Participants were a mean age of 52 years at the point of study enrollment between 1987 and 1989. At that time, subjects were assessed for the presence of vascular disease risk factors, including high cholesterol, smoking, high body mass index, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Between 2011 and 2013 – at a mean age of 76 years – participants underwent PET imaging, which revealed the levels of beta-amyloid in their brains. “The availability of imaging biomarkers for brain amyloid allows the study of individuals before the development of dementia and thereby allows consideration of the relative contributions of vascular disease and amyloid to cognition, as well as the contribution of vascular disease to amyloid deposition,” note the researchers.

Compared with participants who had no risk factors for vascular disease at study baseline, those who had two or more risk factors were found to have significantly higher levels of beta-amyloid in their brains. The more vascular risk factors participants had, the higher were their levels of beta-amyloid.

Contrary to previous studies suggesting that the link between vascular disease risk factors and beta-amyloid levels varies by race, the researchers found that race did not influence their findings. Furthermore, the study results did not differ between people with and without the APOE e4 allele, which is a form of the APOE gene associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Vitamin D: A Necessary Supplement!

A new study reports that in overweight and obese children and adolescents, a deficiency of vitamin D is associated with early markers of cardiovascular disease.

Lead author Marisa Censani, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist and director of the Pediatric Obesity Program in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine, states that “Pediatric obesity affects 17 percent of infants, children, and adolescents ages 2 to 19 in the United States, and obesity is a risk factor for vitamin D deficiency.”

The findings suggest that deficiency of the vitamin may have negative effects on specific lipid markers, with an increase in cardiovascular risk among children and adolescents. This is one of the first studies to assess the relationship of vitamin d deficiency to both lipoprotein ratios and non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol, specific lipid markers impacting cardiovascular risk during childhood, in children and adolescents who are obese or overweight.

Vitamin D was found to be significantly associated with an increase in atherogenic lipids and markers of early cardiovascular disease. Total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, non-HDL cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol/HDL and triglyceride/HDL ratios, were all higher in vitamin D-deficient patients—compared to patients without vitamin D deficiency.

The results support screening children and adolescents who are overweight or obese for vitamin D deficiency, and the potential benefits of improving vitamin d status to reduce cardiometabolic risk.

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What to Eat…and What NOT to Eat

A recent report indicates that ten foods account for nearly half of all heart disease deaths in the United States. Researchers at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition and Policy found that if people ate less salt and meat, and ate more nuts, fruits, and vegetables, they could greatly lower the risk of heart disease.

The researchers at Tufts developed their list of preferred foods from national surveys, which covered 16,000 people from 1999-2012. Volunteers filled out food diaries, and were tracked for several years subsequently, to see what had happened with their health. In 2012, the team wrote that over 700,000 Americans died of cardiovascular disease. Of these deaths, an estimated 45 percent were associated with ‘suboptimal intakes of the 10 dietary factors,’ states the report—published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The team used previously published studies surrounding the benefits or drawbacks of each of the 10 foods, in order to determine how much each one contributes to the risk of death from heart disease. Their calculations suggest that eating too much sodium accounted for 9.5 percent of the deaths; eating too few nuts accounted for 8.5 percent of the deaths; eating too much processed meat accounted for 8.2 percent of the deaths; and eating too little seafood was responsible for 7.8 percent of the deaths.

For decades, the American Heart Association has stressed that food is a critical factor in preventing the country’s primary cause of death. Many studies have previously demonstrated that Americans eat far too much meat, cheese, processed grains, sugar, and salt. Studies also confirm the health effects of the consumption of a daily handful of nuts, in addition to eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; diets rich in these foods also lower the risk of cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. This study’s results should help identify priorities, guide public health planning, and inform strategies to alter dietary habits and improve health.

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