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Tag: heart health

Cheese: A Heart Healthy Snack?

Cheese is typically considered more of an indulgence than a health food, but a new review of research suggests that it may not be as bad for you as once thought. In fact, people in the analysis who ate a little bit of cheese every day were less likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, compared to those who rarely or never ate cheese.

Cheese, like other dairy products, contains high levels of saturated fat—which has been linked to high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and an increased risk of heart disease. (Recently, however, some nutrition experts believe that saturated fat is more benign.) But cheese also contains potentially beneficial ingredients like calcium, protein and probiotics, wrote the authors of the new paper, published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

To learn more about how long-term cheese consumption affects a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, researchers from China and the Netherlands combined and analyzed data from 15 observational studies including more than 200,000 people. All but one of the studies excluded people with existing heart disease, and all but two tracked people for 10 years or more.

The researchers’ findings were “certainly different from what people might expect,” says Dr. Allan Stewart, director of aortic surgery at Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center, who was not involved in the new analysis. Overall, people who consumed high levels of cheese had a 14% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease and were 10% less likely to have a stroke than those who rarely or never ate cheese.

The relationship, however, was U-shaped rather than linear—meaning that higher quantities of cheese were not necessarily better. The people who had the lowest risks for heart disease and stroke were those who consumed, on average, about 40 grams a day—about the size of a matchbook. (According to the review, the average American eats about 42.5 grams a day.)

“This is not the same as eating a big slice of cheesy pizza every day,” says Stewart. He also cautions against reading too much into data that’s self-reported—as much of the data was—because people tend to over- or under-estimate their consumption of specific foods.

Stewart points out that the study was only able to find an association between cheese consumption and decreased risk of heart disease, rather than a cause-and-effect relationship. It could be that people who eat cheese on a daily basis are healthier overall, or have more disposable income and higher socioeconomic statuses.

But it’s also possible that cheese has beneficial qualities that offset the negative impact of its high saturated fat content, says Stewart. “Cheese can be high in probiotics, which tend to put you in less of an inflammatory state,” he says. Cheese also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an unsaturated fatty acid that may increase the amount of of HDL “good” cholesterol and decrease “bad” LDL levels.

“There is some evidence that cheese—as a substitute for milk, for example—may actually have a protective effect on the heart,” says Stewart. “No one’s saying you should definitely go out and eat 40 grams of cheese a day. But on the upside, a bit of cheese on a cracker doesn’t sound unreasonable.”

The study did not look at different types of cheeses, and Stewart says more research is needed to know whether certain varieties hold more health benefits (or risks) than others. Overall, though, the news is good for cheese lovers.

“We’re always are searching for ways to minimize heart disease and reduce atherosclerosis,” he says. “It’s promising to find that something that actually tastes good—and pairs well with a nice glass of red wine—may offer some protection, as well.”

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Canine Companions & Heart Health

The benefits that come with owning a dog are clear– physical activity, support, companionship — but owning a dog could literally be saving your life.

Dog ownership is associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and death, finds a new Swedish study published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports.

For people living alone, owning a dog can decrease their risk of death by 33% and their risk of cardiovascular related death by 36%, when compared to single individuals without a pet, according to the study. Chances of a heart attack were also found to be 11% lower.
Multi-person household owners also saw benefits, though to a lesser extent. Risk of death among these dog owners fell by 11% and their chances of cardiovascular death were 15% lower. But their risk of a heart attack was not reduced by owning a dog.

“A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household,” said Mwenya Mubanga, an author on the study and PhD student at Uppsala University.

As a single dog owner, an individual is the sole person walking and interacting with their pet as opposed to married couples or households with children, which may contribute to greater protection from cardiovascular disease and death, said the study.

Owners of hunting breeds, including terriers, retrievers, and scent hounds, were most protected from cardiovascular disease and death. However, owning any dog will reduce an owners risk of death, just to different extents, said Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at Uppsala University.

The study looked at over 3.4 million Swedish individuals between the ages of 40 and 80 sampled from a national database and the Swedish Twin Register over a 12-year study period. “We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results,” said Fall. This includes taking the dog out for a walk in any weather condition. The findings also suggest increased social well-being and immune system development as additional reasons why dog ownership offers protection against cardiovascular disease and death.

One factor behind this may be because dogs bring dirt into homes and they lick you, which could impact your microbiome — the bacteria that live in your gut — and thus your health. “It may encourage owners to improve their social life, and that in itself will reduce their stress level, which we know absolutely is a primary cause for cardiovascular disease and cardiac events,” said Dr. Rachel Bond, Associate Director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the research.

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Heart Health: Staggering Statistics Urge Prevention

Heart HealthAs the number of Americans with heart disease increases, medical and health experts have been forced to come to terms with the enormous and far-reaching impacts of cardiovascular disease: the primary killer in the U.S., responsible for approximately 1 in every 4 deaths. Data recently released by the National Health Center for Health Statistics indicates that heart disease took over 633,000 lives in the past year—a 0.9 percent increase from the previous year, and the first upward spike since 1999.

A sustained rising trend has prompted scientists to evaluate and assess the methods and protocols that have traditionally been used to treat heart disease; Dr. Steven Houser, president of the American Heart Association, has articulated the need for more progress—with a targeted focus on prevention. Read more

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Health Food for the Heart

A number of recent studies indicate that nuts, which are typically full of nutritious fats and fiber, can actively lower the risk of heart disease. Due to the food’s abundance of nutrients and antioxidants, nuts have additionally been studied to help assess their ability in fighting the damage to cells that can trigger cancer.

This health food for the heart has been further investigated in terms of helping people avoid diseases like diabetes. In an analysis of 29 studies concerning nuts and health outcomes, with a sample size of over 800,000 people, researchers conclusively found that nuts have dramatic body-wide benefits. Read more

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Linking Fiber Facts & Heart Health

Several studies have demonstrated that the consumption of fiber has significantly lowered levels of cholesterol, reduces the risk of stroke and diabetes, helps with weight loss, and can ultimately prevent cardiovascular disease.

Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble, though most fiber-rich foods contain both types. While most people generally associate fiber with a healthy digestive system and track, research has shown that its benefits for heart health are significant. Read more

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