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More Potassium, Fewer Strokes

There are few medical conditions that people fear more than a stroke. We know that blood pressure control and lowering cholesterol levels reduces stroke risk. Now, thanks to a huge analysis from Italy published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, we know that higher dietary consumption of potassium is associated with lower rates of stroke and could also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and total cardiovascular disease, too. What is even more remarkable is that the results apply to all parts of society and not just to specific “at-risk” subgroups.

Most doctors aren’t even aware of how important it is to eat potassium-rich foods. And what are these foods that have potassium? Surprise: It’s fruits and vegetables like bananas, tomatoes, oranges, apricots, most legumes, spinach, winter squash, avocado, kiwi, and cantaloupe. Actually, almost all fruits and veggies have moderate to high potassium content.

The researchers looked a number of well-done studies that included 247, 510 participants over age 30 and found that those patients with the higher potassium intake reduced their stroke risk by 21 percent. The Italian doctors say the protective effect of potassium against stroke is in part due to its blood pressure lowering effects and also due to other properties of the potassium mineral, such as the inhibition of free radical formation.

I’ve written before about the DASH diet, which also found that reduction of sodium and addition of fruits and vegetables to the diet is an effective way to control blood pressure. The DASH diet is high in potassium.

Think about it: Did you have five servings of fruits and vegetables today? Numerous studies have shown their life-prolonging benefits. This new study just adds to what we already know. I challenge all readers to keep a diet count and make sure you are eating five fruit and vegetable servings a day — every day — to help reduce your risk of stroke, cancer, and heart attack.

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Narrative Medicine: Healing Through Storytelling

More in the evolving meme of narrative medicine: Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (my alma mater) have found that for a select population of individuals, listening to personal narratives helps control blood pressure. While the power of stories is old news, the connection to clinical outcomes is what’s newsworthy here. Read Dr. Pauline Chen’s nice piece in the New York Times. The implications for ongoing work in this area are mind boggling.

The Annals of Internal Medicine study authors sum it up nicely:

Emerging evidence suggests that storytelling, or narrative communication, may offer a unique opportunity to promote evidence-based choices in a culturally appropriate context.  Stories can help listeners make meaning of their lives, and listeners may be influenced if they actively engage in a story, identify themselves with the storyteller, and picture themselves taking part in the action.

This nascent field of narrative medicine caught my eye when I stumbled onto the work of Rita Charon and the concept of the parallel chart. Extrapolation to social media may be the next iteration of this kind of work.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

Life Line Screening Promotes Unnecessary Medical Tests

A patient brought in a flyer for Life Line Screening, where for $129 an individual can have their carotid (neck) and peripheral (leg) arteries screened for blockage, their abdominal aorta screened for aneurysm (swelling), and be tested for osteoporosis. The advertisement claims that “we can help you avoid a stroke,” and their logo notes “Life Line Screening: The Power of Prevention.”

Are these tests worth your money? Short answer: No.

Although the flyer correctly indicates that 80 percent of stokes can be prevented, the National Stroke Assocation does not recommend ultrasound as a screening test. Preventing stroke includes quitting smoking, knowing your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, drinking alcohol in moderation (if already doing so), exercising regularly, and eating a low-sodium diet. Their is no mention of an ultrasound test. Why? Because there is NO evidence that it helps save lives in individuals who are healthy and have no symptoms (except for the following situations). Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

What Can Diet And Exercise Actually Help Do?

First, an article in the New York Times talks about whether exercise can actually help you lose weight. Short answer: Probably not, but it may help you keep the pounds off. Click here to read the article.

Second, I’ve done a podcast about my post on whether diet can be used to control blood pressure long term. Each week Razib Khan, Kevin Zelnio and I discuss an article we’ve covered on one of our blogs, and it was my turn. Click here to listen to the podcast online, or click here if you’d like to subscribe to the podcast. You can also visit iTunes and search on “ResearchBlogCast.”

*This blog post was originally published at The Daily Monthly*

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Latest Book Reviews

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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