LE Magazine August 2002
Reducing heart disease risk
In recent years, research has brought to light a host of factors that can heighten or reduce the risk of heart disease. For example, growing evidence suggests that regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduces the chance of heart attack and sudden death in both sexes. A recent study found that healthy men with high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were 81% less likely to experience sudden death from a cardiac event. Since data shows that over 50% of people who suffer fatal cardiac events dont have any warning signs or previous history of heart disease, omega-3 fatty acids may be a sound preventive strategy [NEJM 2002 Apr 11;346(15):1113-1118]. Another study that tracked 85,000 women over a 16-year period reported that consuming fish at least five times a week lowered the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) by more than one third and the risk of fatal heart attack by half [JAMA 2002;287:1815-1821].
Meanwhile, several studies suggest that increasing coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) intake, which is essential for antioxidant function among lipids and mitochondrial energy production, can improve cardiac function and help deter cardiovascular disease. One study found that, in older people (over 70) undergoing cardiac surgery, taking CoQ10 (300 mg/day) orally for about two weeks prior to surgery resulted in reduced post-surgical myocardial damage, a shorter hospital stay and better recovery [Ann N Y Acad Sci 2002 Apr;959:355-9]. Low levels of CoQ10 have been linked to heart failure, lipid disorders and hypertension, among other problems.
Likewise, scientists have successfully identified culprits that can increase risk, such as fibrinogen (Fib) and homocysteine (tHcy). A study of over 2000 high-risk patients found that combined high levels of fibrinogen and homocysteine increased the risk of death approximately five-fold. Fibrinogen is responsible for aiding the blood coagulation process, but abnormally high levels can create dangerous blood clots. Homocysteine levels escalate with advancing age, and chronically high levels affect 30% to 40% of healthy elderly people. Moreover, researchers examining these risk markers in 600 hospitalized elderly patients (ages 65 to 102) found high homocysteine levels affect 60% to 70% of older people with serious chronic conditions, such as vascular disease, cognitive impairment and diabetes. The researchers suggest that malnutrition and digestive problems may lead to certain vitamin deficiencies (i.e. B vitamins), which can adversely affect homocysteine levels [Metabolism 2001;50(12): 1466-71].
Fish oils help battle diabetes
The heart protective benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been frequently reported in the press in recent years, since studies have shown them to protect against atherosclerosis and heart disease, possibly by reducing platelet aggregation. One particular area that researchers have been interested in examining is the potential benefits of omega-3 on diabetes.
Researchers have found that fish oils improve glucose control, among other things. The latest findings from Louisiana State University indicate that they help improve insulin resistance, a pre-diabetic condition. The study involved 12 overweight individuals predisposed to Type II diabetes, who were asked to supplement with 1.8 grams of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) daily for 12 weeks. Results showed that insulin function improved in 70% of the study participants, and significantly in 50% of them. These results suggest that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may help keep diabetes from developing.
People with Type II diabetes often have high triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure, which compound their risk of heart disease. Canadian scientists found that supplementing with fish oil capsules (about 2.0 grams/day) for three months markedly lowered triglycerides in Type II diabetes patients [Diabetes Care 1996 May;19:463-67]. Other study findings from Norway show that taking a fish oil supplement (3.4 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid combined) for 16 weeks lowered blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) significantly in obese people with hypertension without adversely affecting glucose control [Annals of Internal Medicine 1995 Dec 15;123(12): 911- 918].
Tomatoes protect women's heart health
Results presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, Atlanta (March 2002) suggest that high blood levels of lycopene can reduce heart disease risk in middle-aged women by one third. The study involved tracking 1000 post-menopausal women with cardiovascular disease enrolled in the ongoing Womens Health Study. Researchers looked at data from blood levels of lycopene collected in 1992, as well as examined their diets, physical activity and cholesterol levels. However, the researchers behind the findings are treading cautiously for now, trying first to figure out whether dietary lycopene consumption directly correlates with higher blood levels of the carotenoid.
Several studies to date have indicated that consuming lycopene-rich tomato products reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. In a multicenter, case-controlled study of heart attack patients with 10 European countries, biopsied adipose tissue samples, used as a marker of long-term antioxidant exposure instead of blood levels, revealed that lycopene was the only protective antioxidant [Am J Epidemiol 1997 Oct 15;146(8):618-26].
In other research using dietary intake as a measure, University of Toronto investigators found that consuming one to two servings per day of tomato juice, spaghetti sauce and concentrated lycopene for one week doubled blood levels of lycopene, while notably lowering oxidized LDL levels [Lipids 1998 Oct;33(10): 981-4]. Lycopene is believed to slow the progression of atherosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or the bad cholesterol. Meanwhile, low blood levels of carotenoids have been found to increase the risk of a second heart attack in smokers [Am J Clin Nutr 1996;63:559-65], as well the risk of developing and dying from coronary artery disease [BMJ 1997;314:629-33].
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