Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and many European countries. In the Pacific Islands it appears that heart disease is a rarity. Many medical studies have demonstrated that an unhealthy diet and lifestyle can lead to the development of heart disease. So why are Pacific Islanders almost immune to heart disease? Several prior studies have shown that coconut-eating populations around the world have lower cholesterol levels and an immunity to heart problems.
A recent study was conducted on people living on two remote islands in the Pacific (Pukapuka and Tokelau). The foods and lifestyles were carefully evaluated. Coconut was their primary source of food and was eaten in some form at every meal. No evidence of coronary artery disease, diabetes or cancer was found. Despite the high amount of saturated fat in their diets (from coconuts) their cholesterol levels were lower than expected.
Coconuts contain medium chain fatty acids and are used immediately as a source of energy, which is unlike other oils. Vegetable, sunflower and safflower oils are comprised of long chain fats which are deposited in blood vessels as cholesterol or stored around the waist as fat.
This is some interesting data which needs to be evaluated further to determine if there really is a benefit to eating coconuts? But right now this data suggests that adding coconuts “in moderation” to your diet may be heart healthy.
Breastfeeding can help women lose pregnancy weight, help women burn almost 500 calories per day, improve glucose tolerance and cholesterol metabolism. But do women who breast feed have a lower risk for heart disease?
A study published in the May 2009 issue of the journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology examined this question. Breastfeeding utilizes fat stores in the body and releases oxytocin which can help relax blood vessels. The researchers in this study used data from the Women’s Health Initiative which included 140,000 postmenopausal women. Women who breast-fed for 1 or more months were less likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Women who breast-fed for at least 6 months had a significantly lower risk of heart disease. The longer a woman breast-fed the greater the benefit. This study definitely found a lower risk of heart disease risk factors in women who breast-fed but we do not know if this lower risk was attributed to breast-feeding or that women who breast-fed tended to follow healthier lifestyles. More research needs to be conducted to see if breast-feeding can impact future heart health ?
We have known for some time that being overweight and having a lot of belly fat can increase a persons risk for heart disease, now new research from the Framingham Heart Study suggests that having a fat neck can also lead to heart disease.
In this study researchers examined over 3,000 men and women with an average age of 51. The average neck size was 40.5 cm for men and 34.2 cm for women. As neck size grew, so did the risk factors for heart disease. The HDL (healthy cholesterol level) was lower and the fasting blood sugar level higher in men and women who had fat neck. For every 3 cm increase in neck size men had 2.2 milligrams of less good (HDL) cholesterol and women 2.7 milligrams less. Neck size was not associated with LDL (bad cholesterol levels). The increased risk was found regardless of waist circumference, but those people with fat necks and larger waistlines were at an even greater risk. The researchers suggested that a fat neck may be an indicator of increased upper body fat.
Dieting and exercise can help decrease both neck and belly size.
For more heart healthy info visit www.heart-strong.com
A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (April 2009) has reported that fructose sweetened beverages may be more harmful than glucose sweetened products. This study followed 32 overweight or obese men and women for 10 weeks. Some of the people drank fructose-sweetened beverages (totaling 25% of their daily caloric intake) and some people drank glucose-sweetened beverages. Both groups gained weight during the trial but the people consuming fructose gained most of their fat in the belly area. Belly fat has been previously linked to an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease. Also people in the fructose group had higher LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and more insulin resistance. The people who drank the glucose beverages gained weight but it was a subcutaneous fat which is not as detrimental to our health.
High fructose corn syrup is commonly used in the United States and is worse for your health than other sugars. So read those food labels and try to cut down on the processed foods, avoid “high-fructose corn syrup” products!
Recent studies have suggested a link between heart disease and erectile dysfunction in men. When your cholesterol level is elevated atherosclerotic plaque (fat and cholesterol) can accumulate in blood vessels throughout the body. The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than the blood vessels in the heart so plaque build up could affect the smaller blood vessels first. Men who have decreased blood flow to the penis caused by narrowed blood vessels can experience erectile dysfunction. According to a recent article from the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings (April 2009) men who experience erectile dysfunction between the age of 40 to 49 have twice the risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction have an 80% increased risk for heart disease, no matter what their age. So any man who suffers from erectile dysfunction should also have their risk for heart disease evaluated.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a formula that uses height and weight to determine whether a man or woman is the appropriate weight.
Underweight BMI < 18.5
Normal weight BMI 18.5 to 24.9
Overweight BMI 25 to 29.9
Obese BMI 30 to 39.9
Extremely Obese BMI 40 or greater
BMI is a widely used formula but according to a study published this month in the British Journal of Nutrition it may not be accurate for non-Caucasians. BMI does not take into consideration ethnic and gender variations in body composition. In this recent study a low-dose X-ray (called DXA) was used to estimate fat mass, lean body mass and bone density. The study found that African American women may not always be overweight when their BMI is elevated. The researchers suggest that African American women may not be overweight until their BMI is greater than 32 (instead of 30).
This data needs to be further evaluated in other studies. At this point in time we recommend using several measurements to evaluate your weight status (body weight, percent body fat, BMI and waist circumference).
Go to http://www.heart-strong.com/calculators.html for an online calculator to determine your BMI.
If you don’t have diabetes, why do you need to think about your blood sugar levels? It’s simple: Blood sugar problems don’t happen overnight. And, as your blood sugar rises, not only does your risk of developing diabetes increase, but so does your risk of coronary heart disease. There are things you can do now to keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range.
10 things you can to do to maintain a healthy blood sugar
- Take a 30-minute walk every day. Come on, if you have time to watch Friends reruns, you have time for a walk. Strengthening your muscles makes them more receptive to insulin—and helps them use more glucose.
- Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than three large meals. You’ll avoid the blood sugar ups and downs that can come when stuffed or starving.
- Fixate on fiber. The more fiber in your diet—from whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes—the slower carbohydrates are digested and the steadier glucose moves into your bloodstream. You’ll avoid blood sugar spikes and you may even find you lose a few pounds: fiber fills you up, but because it’s not digested, it doesn’t fill you out.
- Sprinkle some cinnamon on your high-fiber breakfast cereal, whole-grain toast or skim-milk cottage cheese. Cinnamon helps make insulin more effective while stimulating production of enzymes that burn up glucose.
- Start your day with a grapefruit. One study found that eating half a grapefruit with each meal for 12 weeks not only helped participants lose an average of 3.6 pounds, but reduced insulin and glucose levels after each meal, suggesting their cells were better at using both substances.
- Drink your milk. Even if you’re overweight, dairy foods can significantly reduce your risk of insulin resistance thanks to proteins and enzymes in milk that slow the transformation of food sugar to blood sugar. Turns out every dairy serving (think one cup of milk) can cut your risk of insulin resistance 20 percent!
- Get a good night’s sleep. There’s significant evidence that lack of sleep (less than six hours) plays havoc with your blood sugar levels and increases insulin resistance. But not too much sleep; more than eight hours isn’t good, either.
- Practice relaxation exercises. Whether it’s deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or simply meditating in a quite room for 10 minutes, that’s all it took in one study from Duke University to improve blood sugar levels in 100 people with high levels.
- Take 1000 micrograms of the supplement chromium picolinate every day. A study in people with Type 2 diabetes found that adding the supplement to anti-diabetic medication improved insulin sensitivity and glucose control better than simply taking the diabetes drug alone.
- Lose some weight. It doesn’t take much: just dropping eight pounds in one year can make a difference!
© 2009 National Women’s Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at: www.healthywomen.org.