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Healthy Heart & Heart Healthy Eating

Learn more about what it means to have a healthy heart and ways to improve your diet to help get there.

Healthy Heart & Heart Healthy Eating

Vascular Inflammation and Obesity

Most people know that being overweight adds to the risk of heart problems. And now there is new research out that helps explain just a little more about why that's so.

Body fat isn't just an inert storage depot for unused energy. Aside from increasing blood pressure and high cholesterol, fat also contains hormonal mediators. The more fat, the more mediators.

One type of these mediators, cytokines, cause the inflammation that destabilizes plaque build-up on arterial walls, and if a piece breaks off and causes a blockage, you know what's next: heart attack!

There are markers that doctors can test for - like C-reactive proteins - so you'll know if you're at greater risk for heart disease because of an excess of these hormonal mediators.

But the best news in the research is that - like many other risk factors - these, too can be reduced by weight loss.

Leisure-Time Physical Activity and Blood Inflammation

Most people understand that excess cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Recently, we've learned more about the similar effects of inflammation in the blood.

Because inflammation in the blood is a reliable risk factor for both heart disease and diabetes, researchers looked at people's blood inflammation levels to see how they related to levels of recreational physical activity.

Not surprisingly, those with the highest amount of activity had the lowest amount of blood inflammation. But we do know that some people with high body fat can be physically fit according to other measures, like cholesterol levels or blood pressure, so the researchers looked a bit further.

They found that the level of inflammation also specifically correlated to the level of body fat. We know that fat actually produces the inflammatory markers that cause so much trouble, so the benefit of the exercise here really was in reducing the amount of fat itself.

So while some people may be able to achieve some standard measures of health and still hang onto their excess fat, this tightens that loophole significantly. It's just another good reason to get moving!

Evolving Knowledge - Having The Latest Information

With two thirds of Americans overweight, we're hearing a lot about obesity research in the news. But do you ever feel like the medical "NEWS" you're hearing is about the same old things: nutrition, lifestyle, disease risks?

Now, if you're waiting to hear about a mystery formula that will miraculously evaporate fat, that's not coming, period.

But new research yields important discoveries EVERY YEAR, and as the causes and consequences of obesity get more attention and RESOURCES, we're ALSO getting a fuller understanding of so much we THOUGHT we knew ALREADY.

For instance, it's hard to believe that when I was in medical school in the 1980s, obesity was NOT considered a risk factor for heart disease! Sure, it was often a companion condition, but the CAUSAL relationship wasn't understood.

But today, we know that fat actually PRODUCES hormones that CAUSE vascular inflammation. That information SAVES LIVES.

New research is helping medical professionals - and the public - to see the challenging complexity of obesity as a DISEASE, and to understand the URGENCY of treating it.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is the most common kind of abnormal heart rhythm. It can lead to heart attack and stoke, and it occurs with increasing frequency among older people. And according to new research, obesity can cause or aggravate it.

Atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, as doctors like to call it, makes your heart beat irregularly, sometimes as fast as 150 beats per minute. This severe stress on the heart can lead to heart attack in someone who has heart blockages.

A-fib is also a leading cause of stroke, because the irregular quivering of an A-fib heart causes microscopic clots to develop. These can break off and cause a stroke, which is why people with A-fib need to be on blood thinners.

But apparently, some overall thinning could be helpful, too. A-fib can be caused by health conditions that lead to dilation or enlargement of the heart. Obesity does that. And not surprisingly, there's a much greater incidence of A fib among overweight and obese people.

The answer? Reduce the weight, and reduce the risk.

Liposuction Doesn't Reduce Heart Disease Risk

Having excess fat around your midsection increases your risk of so many health problems, so why can't you just get liposuction done and get some of that dangerous fat out of there?

Patients often ask if they can reduce their health risks by having liposuction on their abdominal fat. I admire the logic, even the creativity of the idea, and I wish it could be that simple.

But trust me, they've tried. And clinical studies showed it makes no difference. That's because even if it's in your abdominal region, the fat you can remove with LIPOSUCTION is subcutaneous fat-it's packed in under your SKIN.

The abdominal fat that increases health risks is VISCERAL fat, that is, it's packed in AROUND your ORGANS, where it's causing a lot of trouble. Lipo can't get to that fat.

Fortunately, diet and exercise can, and even a small weight loss overall can make a significant difference in the risk caused by visceral fat… and it'll probably reduce that other fat, too.

BMI, Physical Fitness and Heart Disease in Women

There is some new research into heart disease in women that stirs up the question again about being fit and fat.

What the new data show is that among women seen for angiography, ACTIVITY LEVEL is far more closely associated with her risk of having a heart condition than OBESITY.

There are a couple ways to read this. Some people will no doubt say that it shows that even fat women can be fit.

But if their excess weight leaves them feeling winded or tired by any exertion, women tend to gradually do less and less, gain more, and further increase their risk of heart disease. Remember, these women were already being seen for angiography, which means they were probably already symptomatic.

So if a woman is INACTIVE, I want to know why. Is she experiencing scary symptoms when she exerts herself? I find that women often can't come right out and admit those symptoms, but they'll change their behavior to avoid them.

And in this case, that may not be the best thing to do.

Excess Weight and Other Heart Problems

Overweight and obesity cause a number of significant biochemical changes that put heavy people at much higher risk for heart disease. But now there's a new study that shows that excess weight even causes heart problems that AREN'T related to disease.

The study looked at the heart function of people in four different weight classes. None had existing heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or any known symptoms of congestive heart failure.

What the researchers found was that, compared to the people in the normal weight class, the function of heart contractions got progressively less efficient for people in the increasing weight classes. The hearts of those in the highest weight group were significantly weaker and had much less ability to relax after a contraction to allow the left ventricle to refill with blood during the rest between heartbeats, putting them at high risk for heart failure.

Anyone without disease factors who thought they were in the clear for heart failure, might want to think again. A weak heart can be as vulnerable as a sick one.

Fruity Fiber for Heart-Healthy Eating

Most of us have heard that a high-fiber diet is helpful in preventing cancer, heart disease, and other health problems.

But a new study out of Harvard seems to indicate that when it comes to heart disease and related deaths, some fiber is better than others.

By pooling data from several other studies, the researchers were able to look at dietary and medical data for more than a quarter million people.

What they found was that for each 10-grams eaten daily of cereal fiber, the risk of death from heart disease dropped by 25 percent, and for fruit fiber, it dropped 30 percent.

That's worth keeping in mind for people on low-carb diets heavy in fats and red meat, which tend to increase the risk of heart disease anyway.

And if the diet also calls for passing on the fruits and grains, you could be heading for heartache.

bistroMD Team Logo
Written By bistroMD Team. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on July 02, 2019.


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