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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*

Diet Soda And Your Risk For Heart Attack Or Stroke

It tastes sweet. It’s pleasurably fizzy. And free of calories. What’s more, the FDA says NutraSweet (aspartame) is safe. So what’s not to like about diet soft drinks?

A bunch. The ongoing debate about the healthiness of diet soft drinks reminds me of the old adage, “If something sounds to be true, it probably is.”

Artificially-sweetened “diet” drinks get touted as healthy alternatives to sugary drinks because they contain no calories or carbohydrates. On paper it seems plausible to think they are inert, no more dangerous than water. The Coca-Cola Company sublimely strengthens this assertion by putting a big red heart on Diet Coke cans.

But diet-cola news (Los Angeles Times) presented at the International Stroke Conference 2011 suggests otherwise. This widely-publicized observational study of 2,500 older patients (average age=69) from New York showed that drinking diet soda on a daily basis increased the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 61 percent. The abstract — not a peer-reviewed study — stated that this association persisted after controlling for other pertinent variables.

Sure, this is only a look back at 559 patients who had a vascular event. The study asserts only an association, not that diet colas cause heart attacks and strokes. That’s a big difference.

That said, however, I don’t view these results as trivial either. This trial builds on the results of prior studies of diet drinks which strongly suggest that despite their lack of calories, diet drinks don’t prevent obesity. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Snoring During Pregnancy: A Risk For Gestational Diabetes?

A recent medical study reported a fairly unique finding:  Pregnant women who snore frequently are at an increased risk for developing gestational diabetes.

The Associated Professional Sleep Societies (TAPSS) reported that 24 percent of habitual snorers had an official diagnosis of gestational diabetes as opposed to 17 percent of nonsnorers. As gestational diabetes affects 4 to 6 percent of all pregnant women, this study is significant according to Louise O’Brien, Ph.D. who is associated with the department of neurology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Snoring is nothing new among women but it becomes more pronounced with the onset of menopause or weight gain. Approximately one-third of all women in the U.S. are obese and at risk for snoring and sleep apnea. Being overweight can cause bulky throat tissue which then physically blocks air flow.

Up until the publication of the University of Michigan study, the health risks associated with snoring included greater than ten seconds of interruptions of breathing, frequent waking from sleep, potential strain on the heart which then results in hypertension, increased risk of heart attacks, and stroke. Now the tide has changed. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway*

Taking Chocolate To Heart

darkchocolate Chocolate: The Newest Heart Healthy FoodIt’s beginning to look like chocolate, especially dark chocolate, really and truly is a heart healthy snack, though only if it’s consumed in small quantities.

A delectable taste of this news came last spring, in the form of a study by German scientists which appeared in the European Heart Journal. It was a retrospective study of nearly 20,000 people, and it showed that folks in the highest quartile for chocolate consumption (meaning they consumed 7.5 grams of chocolate per day — the equivalent of 2 to 3 small squares of a Hershey bar), had lower blood pressure, a 27 percent lower risk of heart attack, and a 48 percent lower risk of stroke than those in the lowest quartile (about 1.7 grams per day).

Now, a new study in the journal Cardiovascular Pharmacology has lent credence to those findings by suggesting a mechanism through which chocolate reduces blood pressure. In the study, Ingrid Persson and colleagues at Linkoping University showed that dark chocolate inhibits the activity of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE). This enzyme helps regulate fluids and salt metabolism in the body. It is the target of many well-known antihypertensive drugs including captopril, lisinopril and enalopril. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Pizaazz*

Decline In Stroke Deaths Reinforces “Brain Attack” Prevention

Stroke killed 2,000 fewer Americans in 2008 (the last year with complete numbers) than it did in 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said yesterday in its latest annual Deaths report. That dropped stroke from the third leading cause of death in the United States to the fourth.

Good news? Yes and no. It’s always good news when fewer people die. The reduction suggests a payoff for efforts to prevent stroke and improve the way doctors treat it.

Yet the drop from third to fourth place is due largely to an accounting change. The CDC reorganized another category, “chronic lower respiratory diseases” (mainly chronic bronchitis and emphysema), to include complications of these diseases such as pneumonia. The change substantially increased the number of deaths in this category, which had long trailed stroke as the fourth leading cause of death.

More worrisome is that the decline in deaths from stroke isn’t matched by a decline in the number of strokes. On the rise since 1988, stroke now strikes almost 800,000 Americans a year, and that is expected to grow. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

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