With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases now topping 4 million globally, the urgency to develop a vaccine has never been greater. Now something that’s been witnessed throughout this pandemic is the way COVID-19 seems to hit some people harder than others. Whether a COVID-19 patient is hospitalized and requires more serious medical interventions, like ventilation, often depends on several risk factors. Age In the United States, 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths have occurred in patients aged 65 and older. The reason for this is thought to be because elderly individuals have more chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Diabetes A recent meta-analysis of 13 separate studies found that people with diabetes were nearly 3.7 times more likely to have a critical case of COVID-19 or to die from the disease than patients without any underlying health conditions. Heart disease and hypertension The American Heart Association says people with cardiovascular issues, including heart disease and hypertension, generally tend to suffer worse COVID-19 complications than those with no pre-existing conditions. Smoking A study from China found that 12.3% of current smokers were admitted to an ICU, were placed on a ventilator or died. This compares to 4.7% of non-smokers. Obesity Being obese has been linked to an increased severity of COVID-19 in younger patients. Furthermore, a separate study from China – which has not yet been peer-reviewed – found that obese individuals were more than twice as likely to develop severe pneumonia as compared with patients who were normal weight.
Several studies have revealed that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting men and the potential reasons include everything from biology to bad habits. According to the World Health Organization, men have accounted for 69% of COVID-19 related deaths in Europe. Meanwhile, reports suggest that in New York City men have been dying from COVID-19 at almost twice the rate of women. It is thought that both genetics and lifestyle choices play a part when it comes to COVID-19 outcomes in men. First and foremost, because of their extra X chromosome, women have stronger immune systems and respond better to infections than men. Then there is the fact that more elderly men suffer from heart disease than elderly women and that high blood pressure and liver disease are more prevalent in men too. All of these conditions are factors that are associated with more negative COVID-19 outcomes. In addition, men are statistically more likely to smoke than women. In fact, according to Our World in Data figures, more than one-third (35%) of men in the world smoke, compared to just over 6% of women. With smoking one of the biggest risk factors for chronic lung disease, men are at a much greater disadvantage should they get COVID-19. [Related reading: Can you catch the new coronavirus twice?]
We recently wrote about how avoiding five specific bad habits can significantly extend your life. Now, a new meta-analysis published in The BMJ adds further weight to the argument for eating less salt and being healthier. According to the meta-analysis of 133 clinically randomised trials, lowering salt intake reduces blood pressure – even in individuals who are not yet at risk of hypertension-related conditions. This is important because heart disease is the number one global killer and high blood pressure is the leading cause of heart disease. Furthermore, hypertension is also the leading cause of stroke, heart failure and kidney disease, highlighting how potentially beneficial a low slat diet could be for many people. Interestingly, the research found that the greater the reduction in salt intake, the greater the benefit to blood pressure. At present, U.S. government guidelines advise Americans to not consume more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt per day as part of a healthy eating pattern. However, the vast majority of U.S. adults are eating more sodium than they should -- average of more than 3,400 mg each day. One of the biggest problems is the amount of salt that is contained in manufactured foods, which is usually added to enhance flavour, texture and colour, as well as improve longevity. So even if you don’t reach for the salt shaker at every mealtime, you could still be consuming too much. It’s good to get into the habit of checking the foods you buy to see how much they all contain. After all, just a small reduction could significantly improve your health and reduce your risk of early mortality. Speaking about the findings of the research, lead author Feng He, a researcher at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The totality of evidence in the JACC review and this latest BMJ research shows that reducing our salt intake will be immensely beneficial.”
A new study has revealed five bad health habits which, if avoided, could help you live significantly longer. While the habits themselves are nothing we haven’t heard before, the findings of the study are important as they highlight just how much of an impact the five factors can have on lifespan. So if you want to live years longer, avoid these five behaviours: smoking, not exercising, being overweight, drinking too much alcohol and eating an unhealthy diet. Specifically, the study found that women aged 50 who avoided all five risk factors lived 14 years longer than women who did not. Among men, the difference in lifespan was 12 years. Publishing the study findings in the BMJ, senior author Dr. Frank Hu, who chairs the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “We found that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.” Importantly, the results held true even after adjusting the data for age, ethnicity, family medical history and other potentially influential factors – emphasising that everyone stands to benefit from avoiding these five unhealthy habits. Finally, the research also revealed that the five habits had a positive impact for people diagnosed with a disease during the study period. For example, individuals who developed cancer lived an additional 23 years if they adopted four of the five healthy practices. In contrast, among those who didn't change, half only survived an additional 11 years. The same patterns were witnessed for both heart disease and diabetes.
New research suggests cancer patients are at higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than the general population. According to the study, the results of which are published in the European Heart Journal, more than one in 10 cancer survivors die from heart and blood vessel problems, rather than their initial illness. Among the 3,234,256 cancer patients studied for the research, 38% died from cancer, while 11% died from cardiovascular diseases. Among the deaths from cardiovascular diseases, 76% were due to heart disease. The risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was also highest in the first year after a patient’s cancer diagnosis and among patients younger than 35. Among those cancer patients diagnosed before the age of 55 and who went on to survive their illness, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was more than 10 times higher than that for the general population. Meanwhile, patients with breast, prostate or bladder cancer were most likely to die from heart disease – but this is simply because these are the most common types of cancer. It is still unclear as to why cancer patients have a seemingly higher risk of heart disease, but their treatment itself or lifestyle factors, such as being overweight, drinking too much and not exercising, could be to blame, experts say.
Lycopene - a natural pigment that gives red fruits and vegetables their colour - is an antioxidant that protects against cell damage, and tomatoes contain plenty of it. In fact, it is estimated that tomatoes account for 80% of the lycopene in the US diet. Now, a new study suggests Lycopene may also help boost sperm quality. According to the research by a team at the University of Sheffield, healthy men who consumed the equivalent of two tablespoons of concentrated tomato puree each day were found to have better quality sperm. During the 12-week trial, 60 men were randomly selected to take 14mg of lactolycopene supplement each day. The reason a supplement was used is because the participants would have had to eat 2kg of tomatoes each day to obtain an equivalent dose of lycopene. The participants’ sperm was tested before, during and after the trial. While there was no difference in sperm concentration, the men who had been taking the lycopene had healthier and faster sperm. Encouraged by the results, the researchers now want to expand the trial to include more men and see if the findings are the same. Lycopene has also been previously linked to other health benefits, including a lowered risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Cancer has surpassed cardiovascular disease as the biggest killer of middle-aged people in higher-income nations, a study suggests. Globally, stroke and heart problems are the leading causes of death among this age group. But the findings of this latest research led by a team from Canada's McMaster University shows that middle-aged people in rich nations are 2.5 times more likely to die of cancer than cardiovascular disease. In contrast, people in poor countries are three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. The study, published in The Lancet, is drawn from a global research program, the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiologic (PURE) study, involving 160,000 people from 21 different countries. While cardiovascular disease accounted for more than 40% of deaths in middle- and low-income countries, it only accounted for less than a quarter in richer nations. The researchers say this could be due to people living in richer countries receiving more medication and support. Speaking about the findings of the research, Gilles Dagenais, a professor at Quebec’s Laval University in Canada who co-led the work, said: “Our report found cancer to be the second most common cause of death globally in 2017, accounting for 26% of all deaths. But as (heart disease) rates continue to fall, cancer could likely become the leading cause of death worldwide, within just a few decades.”
Drinking red wine (in moderation) could be good for your gut, according to researchers from the UK. The team from King’s College London says red wine contains compounds that help increase the number of different types of bacteria that live in the gut. The micronutrients, known as polyphenols, are more abundant in red wine vs. beer, cider and white wine, and act as fuel for microbes living inside the bowel. Polyphenols are found in many fruits and vegetables, including the grapes used to make red wine. The researchers say even just one glass of red wine a fortnight can make a difference, but warn that their findings should not be used as an excuse to binge drink. Publishing its research in the journal Gastroenterology, the team said the “friendly” bugs in our gut help keep us healthy. Even small changes in our gut microbiota – the community of bugs that live there – can make us more susceptible to conditions like obesity, heart disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The gut microbiota of people who drink red wine was found to be more diverse than that of those who do not drink wine. Furthermore, the more wed wine consumed, the greater the levels of diversity – although it’s important to note that nobody involved in the trial was a heavy drinker. Speaking about the findings of their research, Dr Caroline Le Roy said: “If you must choose one alcoholic drink today, red wine is the one to pick as it seems to potentially exert a beneficial effect on you and your gut microbes, which in turn may also help weight and risk of heart disease.”
A pill that contains four different medicines and is designed to be taken daily could dramatically reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes, a new study has found. The polypill – which is the generic term used to describe a medication that contains multiple active pharmaceutical ingredients – contains aspirin, a cholesterol-lowering statin and two drugs to reduce blood pressure. For the study, researchers from Iran and the UK studied around 6,800 people from more than 100 villages in Iran. Half were given the polypill and advice on how to improve their health through lifestyle changes and the other half were just given the lifestyle changes advice. After five years, the group taking the polypill had experienced 202 cardiovascular events, while the group that had just been given the advice had experienced 301 cardiovascular events. In other words, the group taking the polypill had experienced around a third less cardiovascular events. The researchers say the pill costs just pennies a day, but could have a huge impact, especially in poorer countries where doctors have fewer options available to them. Stroke and coronary heart disease are the top two causes of death worldwide, killing more than 15 million people each year. Obesity, smoking and doing little exercise are all risk factors associated with an unhealthy heart. Based on the findings of the study, if 35 people were all given the polypill daily, it would prevent one of them developing a major heart problem within 5 years. “Given the polypill's affordability, there is considerable potential to improve cardiovascular health and to prevent the world's leading cause of death,” said Dr Nizal Sarrafzadegan, of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran. The findings of the research are published in The Lancet.
Postmenopausal women who have more fat on their legs and thighs have less risk of stroke or heart disease than their peers who carry fat around their stomach, a new study has found. As a result of the research, the findings of which appear in the European Heart Journal, scientists say women should aim to be more “pear-shaped” than “apple-shaped”. For the research, scientists followed 2,600 women with BMIs of between 187 and 25 for 18 years. The scientists found that the women who were apple-shaped i.e. had fat around their stomachs were more than three times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than the women who were pear-shaped i.e. had fat on their legs and thighs. It’s already known that fat stored in the visceral region (around the abdominal organs) can increase a person’s chances of developing type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems, but the exact reasons why remain unknown. Further research is needed. The advice for women (and men) is to reduce the amount of fat they have stored around their stomachs. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study uncovers an interesting link between where fat is stored and your risk of heart attack and stroke, but can't tell us why it exists. “Future research to uncover how the distribution of body fat is related to these diseases could reveal important new ways to prevent and treat the world's biggest killer.”
We are frequently warned about the health consequences of leading a sedentary lifestyle. But new research reveals that not all types of sitting are equally unhealthy. The study by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons found that sitting in front of a TV (known as ‘leisure-time sitting’) was associated with a greater risk of heart disease and death. In fact, study participants who watched four or more hours of TV a day were found to have a 50% greater risk of cardiovascular events and death compared to those who watched less than two hours a day. However, the study also found that participants who sat for long periods at work had the same level of risk as those who sat the least, suggesting the type of sitting really does have an impact. Furthermore, the study also revealed that even the most avid TV watchers could reverse the effects of their longer sedentary periods with moderate to rigorous exercise. For example, individuals who watched TV for four hours or more each day, and undertook 150 minutes or more exercise a week, had no increased risk of stroke, heart attack or death. Speaking about the findings of the study, Keith M. Diaz, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioural medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said: “It may be that most people tend to watch television for hours without moving, while most workers get up from their desk frequently. The combination of eating a large meal such as dinner and then sitting for hours could also be particularly harmful.”
A major study has found that the UK has a big obesity problem, and that there are severe health implications for people who are even just a little overweight. According to the research, which was funded by healthcare firm Novo Nordisk, individuals with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30-35 were 70% more likely to develop heart failure than their healthy weight peers (18.5-25 BMI). Furthermore, the study of 2.8 million adults also showed that people who were even slightly overweight were twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. The study, which is due to be presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, also revealed: The risk of Type 2 diabetes for people with a BMI of 35-40 was almost nine times higher People with severe obesity (BMI of 40-45) were 12 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes People with severe obesity also had triple the risk of heart failure, high blood pressure, and dyslipidaemia (elevated levels of total or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol) A BMI of 40-45 was also linked with a 50% higher risk of dying prematurely from any cause Speaking about the findings of the study, Public Health England said “sustained action” was needed to tackle obesity.
We recently wrote about how just one rasher of bacon a day can increase bowel cancer risk. Now, new research has revealed that replacing red meat with plant protein can reduce heart disease risk. For the study, researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, conducted a meta-analysis of trials comparing the effects of meat vs. other diets on our health. The results are published in the journal Circulation. It was an approach that allowed the researchers to not only examine the health effects of red meat, but also see whether substituting red meat for other protein sources brought benefits. Analyzing data from 36 randomized controlled trials, the researchers looked at the blood pressure and blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins of the participants. They then compared these levels with those of people who ate less red meat and more chicken, fish, legumes, soy, nuts, or carbohydrates. They found that while there wasn’t much difference in lipoproteins, blood pressure, or total cholesterol, diets high in red meat did cause an increase in triglyceride concentrations. In addition, diets rich in high-quality plant protein led to lower levels of bad cholesterol. Speaking about the findings of the research, Marta Guasch-Ferré, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent. “But, our new study, which makes specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods, shows that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources lead to more favorable changes in cardiovascular risk factors.”
Following a low-calorie diet – even for just a few months – can arrest type-2 diabetes for at least two years, new research suggests. The findings of the study highlight that type-2 diabetes might not necessarily be the life sentence we previously thought. Nearly 300 people with type-2 diabetes in Scotland and Tyneside (in the UK) participated in the study. Half were given standard diabetes care, while the other half were put on a structured weight management programme. After 12 months, 46% of those on the low-calorie programme had successfully reversed their type-2 diabetes. In comparison, just 4% of the study participants given the standard treatment had gone into remission. Two years later, 36% of the study participants on the structured weight management programme were still in remission. “People with type 2 diabetes and healthcare professionals have told us their top research priority is: ‘Can the condition be reversed or cured?’ We can now say, with respect to reversal, that yes it can. Now we must focus on helping people maintain their weight loss and stay in remission for life,” said Prof Mike Lean from Glasgow University, who led the study with Taylor. Type-2 diabetes causes blood sugar levels to rise and can lead to serious complications such as amputations, visual problems and heart disease. It is thought that one in 16 adults in the UK is currently living with type-2 diabetes, a condition that is fuelled by obesity. [Related reading: Why being overweight increases your risk of cancer]
The health benefits of eating fiber have long been hailed, but how much fiber should we all be eating to prevent chronic disease and premature death? A new study reveals just that… Commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), the research is the culmination of a meta-analysis of observational studies and clinical trials that took place over almost 40 years. The results appear in the journal The Lancet. One of the objectives of the research was to help in the development of new guidelines for dietary fiber consumption, as well as discover which carbs protect us the most against noncommunicable diseases. So how much fiber should we be eating? Well, the research found that a daily intake of 25–29 grams of fiber is ideal. People who consumed this amount of fiber each day were 15–30 percent less likely to die prematurely from any cause and had a 16–24 percent lower incidence of stroke, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer. The researchers also say that consuming more than 29 grams of fiber per day could lead to even more health benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Professor Jim Mann, of the University of Otago, in New Zealand, said: “The health benefits of fiber are supported by over 100 years of research into its chemistry, physical properties, physiology, and effects on metabolism. “Fiber-rich whole foods that require chewing and retain much of their structure in the gut increase satiety and help weight control and can favorably influence lipid and glucose levels. “The breakdown of fiber in the large bowel by the resident bacteria has additional wide-ranging effects including protection from colorectal cancer.” Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and pulses, such as beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Are you consuming enough fiber?
How’s your blood pressure? Do you even know? If you haven’t had it checked recently, your blood pressure could be creeping up (getting higher) and you might not have even realised. In fact, high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is often called a “silent killer” because it rarely causes symptoms until a person’s health is already severely damaged. That’s why keeping an eye on your blood pressure and looking out for any potential symptoms is so important. Failure to seek treatment when you have high blood pressure can lead to serious health complications such as stroke and heart disease. This is ironic when you consider that hypertension can usually be treated with lifestyle changes and/or medication. So what high blood pressure warning signs should you be looking out for? First and foremost, the only way to check whether you have high blood pressure or not is to have it checked by a health professional, or check it yourself providing you know how to and have the necessary equipment. Remember, just because you feel ‘fine’ does not mean you aren’t at risk of hypertension. If your blood pressure becomes extremely high (above 180/120 mmHg), something referred to as ‘hypertensive crisis’, you may experience any of the following symptoms: Severe headaches Nosebleeds Severe fatigue Chest pain Irregular heartbeat Vision problems Back pain Severe anxiety Blood in your urine Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing) Hypertensive crisis is a medical emergency and immediate intervention is required to prevent serious damage to blood vessels and major organs. So, in short, you are unlikely to know whether you have elevated blood pressure or not until serious damage has occurred. Get your blood pressure checked regularly and heed any advice from medical professionals on how to keep yours at a healthy level.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is a “global epidemic” that must be tackled if we are to prevent its ill effects. In the United States, nearly 40% of adults and 18.5% of children aged 2 to 19 are obese. Obesity is a major risk factor for type-2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. That’s why finding effective ways to treat the condition is paramount. But now scientists say they are on the verge of creating a pill that could make obesity a thing of the past - without the need for diet and exercise. Sounds too good to be true, right? Nevertheless, the team at Flinders University in South Australia say that they key to curbing obesity could lie in a single gene known as RCAN1. The team found that when RCAN1 was removed in mice and they were then fed a high fat diet, they did not gain weight. In fact, they could eat as much food as they wanted over a prolonged period of time, the researchers say. Damien Keating, Ph.D., professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Flinders, and leader of the research team, said blocking RCAN1 allows the body to transform unhealthy white fat into calorie-burning brown fat. Stunning pictures of the mice used for the trial highlight the difference when RCAN1 was blocked and when it wasn’t. The results of the research are published in the journal EMBO Reports.
Strength training exercises benefit the heart more than aerobic activities, such as walking and cycling, new research suggests. The survey of more than 4,000 American adults found that static exercise, like lifting weights, is more effective at reducing the risk of heart disease than cardiovascular exercise. Specifically, while undertaking both static and dynamic exercise was associated with a 30% to 70% reduction of cardiovascular risk factors, the link was strongest for younger individuals who did static exercises. Nevertheless, any amount of exercise brings benefits and doing both static and dynamic types is still better than focussing on just one kind, the researchers from St. George's University in St. George's, Grenada said. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr. Maia P. Smith, assistant professor at the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at St. George's University, said: “Both strength training and aerobic activity appeared to be heart healthy, even in small amounts, at the population level.” Current American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines recommend that American adults should undertake at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity every week. The same guidelines also stipulate that said activity should be spread across the week and not completed in just one or two days. Are you doing enough physical activity each week? If not, you could be increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. [Related reading: Why being overweight increases your risk of cancer]
A new study, one of the largest of its kind, suggests being the wrong weight i.e. overweight or underweight cold knock four years off a person’s life expectancy. According to the study, the findings of which were published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal, from the age of 40, people towards the higher end of the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) range (a healthy BMI ranges from 18.5 to 25) had the lowest risk of dying from disease, including cancer and heart disease. In contrast, individuals who had BMI scores of less than 18.5 or more than 30 had life expectancies that were 4.4 years and 3.85 years shorter respectively. BMI scores, which are calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in kilograms) by their height (in metres squared), are still considered by health professionals to be the simplest and most accurate way to work out if someone is overweight or underweight. For the population-based cohort study, researchers analysed anonymised data on 3.6 million adults from the U.K. Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD). Dr Krishnan Bhaskaran, lead author of the study, said: “The most striking thing about our findings was how widely BMI was linked to different causes of death. BMI was associated with deaths from nearly all major causes.” He added that the research reinforces the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that people who have low BMI scores are at as much risk, if not more, of reducing their life expectancies.
Do you take supplements containing omega-3 fish oil in the belief they are helping to protect your heart? A new study suggests you could be wasting your money. Researchers from Cochrane analysed trials involving more than 100,000 people and discovered little proof that omega-3 supplements prevented heart disease. In fact, they say the chance of getting any benefits from such supplements is one in 1,000. However, despite this, the researchers still maintain that eating oily fish as part of a healthy diet is beneficial. Indeed, NHS guidelines state that people should try to eat two portions of fish each week, one of which, ideally, should be oily fish such as mackerel, salmon or fresh tuna. This is so they get enough “good” fats. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof Tim Chico, a cardiologist from Sheffield University, said: “There was a period where people who had suffered a heart attack were prescribed these on the NHS. This stopped some years ago. “Such supplements come with a significant cost, so my advice to anyone buying them in the hope that they reduce the risk of heart disease, I'd advise them to spend their money on vegetables instead.” Dr Lee Hooper, from the University of East Anglia, said: “The most trustworthy studies consistently showed little or no effect of long-chain omega-3 fats on cardiovascular health.” Nevertheless, Dr Carrie Ruxton from the UK’s Health and Food Supplements Information Service said supplements containing omega-3 can still play an important role for people who don’t eat oily fish – especially as omega-3 also benefits the brain, eyes and immune function.
Doctors should take a person’s marital status into account when assessing their risk of heart attack and stroke, a major study has found. For the study, researchers at Keele University analysed numerous trials involving more than two million people. They found that individuals who were never married, divorced or widowed were 42% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. They were also 42% more likely to die from heart disease and 55% more likely to die from a stroke. Risk factors such as age, sex, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes are usually associated with cardiovascular disease. However, the findings of the new study suggest marital status should also be added to the list. Senior author, Mamas Mamas, Professor of Cardiology at Keele University, in England, said: “Our work suggests that marital status should be considered in patients with or at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and should be used alongside more traditional cardiac risk factors to identify those patients that may be at higher risk for future cardiovascular events”. The researchers say the reason marriage could have a protective effect on cardiovascular disease is because of the additional emotional and social support that’s afforded by having a spouse. People with long-term partners are more likely to have symptoms spotted earlier and encouraged to seek medical advice as a result.
Most people are familiar with the phrase, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, but what about an egg a day? New research suggests that a daily egg may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Despite sometimes getting a bad press for their high cholesterol content, eggs, it seems, could help us steer clear of cardiovascular conditions, according to research published in the journal Heart. For their study, researchers from the School of Public Health at Peking University Health Science Centre in Beijing, China analysed survey data relating to more than 500,000 individuals. Of those individuals, 461,213 were free from cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes at baseline. Egg consumption among the study participants was noted and the individuals were followed up with after a median period of 8.9 years. The researchers' found that individuals who usually ate about one egg per day had a 26% lower risk of experiencing hemorrhagic stroke; a 28% lower risk of death due to this type of event; and an 18% lower risk of CVD-related mortality. Current NHS guidelines in the UK relating to egg consumption state: "although eggs contain some cholesterol, the amount of saturated fat we eat has more of an effect on the amount of cholesterol in our blood than the cholesterol we get from eating eggs". So, in other words, it’s not eggs that are necessarily the problem when it comes to cholesterol, but rather how you cook them. Indeed, eggs are a great source of healthful nutrients, such as protein, vitamins, phospholipids, and carotenoids.
Are you a night owl or a morning person? A new study suggests that it could make a big difference to your health and it’s not good news for late risers. According to the paper authored by Dr Kristen Knutson and Professor Malcolm von Schantz, of Northwestern University (Chicago) and the University of Surrey (UK) respectively, night owls have an increased risk of early death, psychological disorders and respiratory illness than people who are, so to speak, up with the lark. The paper backs up previous research that suggests people who regularly go to bed late are more likely to suffer ill health. Over a six-year period, night owls were found to have a 10% greater risk of death than larks, according to the paper. This finding held true even after adjusting for expected health problems in people who go to bed late, such as metabolic dysfunction and heart disease. Using data extracted from the UK Biobank, a data store containing medical and genetic information relating to some 500,000 people aged 40 to 69 from across the UK, the researchers were able to determine the effect a lack of sleep has on individuals. While night owls often make up for their lack of sleep during the week by staying in bed longer at weekends – referred to as “social jet lag” - it is seemingly not enough to combat the potential health problems they face. Commenting on the findings of the research, Dr Knutson said that “night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies. They shouldn’t be forced to get up for an 8am shift. Make work shifts match people’s chronotypes. Some people may be better suited to night shifts.” Being a night owl was also associated with psychological stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, eating at the wrong time, and drug or alcohol use. So, if you're someone who regularly goes to bed late and doesn't get enough sleep during the week, maybe it's time to change your habits.
People who regularly drink more than the UK’s recommended alcohol guidelines risk taking years off their lives, a major new report has found. According to the study of some 600,000 drinkers, having 10 to 15 alcoholic drinks every week could shorten a person's life by between one and two years. People who regularly consume more than 18 alcoholic drinks every week could lose four to five years of their lives. UK government guidelines, which were last updated in January 2016, recommend that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week (equivalent to 6 pints of average strength beer). Previously, the guidelines advised 21 units for men and 14 units for women each week. The authors of the Lancet study say their findings support the UK government’s revised guidelines. Commenting on the study’s findings, Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, said: "This study makes clear that on balance there are no health benefits from drinking alcohol, which is usually the case when things sound too good to be true. "Although non-fatal heart attacks are less likely in people who drink, this benefit is swamped by the increased risk of other forms of heart disease including fatal heart attacks and stroke."
While a low sperm count and problems with sperm quality are huge hurdles for couples who are trying to get pregnant, a new study shows that men with low sperm counts are also at increased risk of illness. The study of 5,177 men in Italy found that those with low sperm counts were 20% more likely to have more body fat, more "bad" cholesterol and higher blood pressure – all factors that increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke. They were also 12 times more likely to have low testosterone levels. Dr Alberto Ferlin, from the University of Bresci, who led the study, said: "Infertile men are likely to have important co-existing health problems or risk factors that can impair quality of life and shorten their lives. "Fertility evaluation gives men the unique opportunity for health assessment and disease prevention." The study’s authors say that men with low sperm counts should be actively checked for other potential health problems, which may have a greater chance of being rectified if treated earlier. However, the authors of the study stressed that their findings did not prove that low sperm counts cause metabolic problems, merely that the two are linked in some way.
New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that waist-to-hip ratio is a better heart attack predictor than body mass index (BMI), with so-called “apple shape” women at greater risk than their male counterparts. According to the research from the George Institute for Global Health, waist-to-hip ratio is an 18% better heart attack predictor than BMI in women and 6% in men. However, the research also found that BMI was linked to heart disease risk in both sexes. For the research, the team from the George Institute in Oxford interviewed nearly 500,000 UK adults aged 40 to 69. They found women who had bigger waists relative to their hips are at more risk of heart attacks than men with similar body shapes. Speaking about the findings of the research, Ashleigh Doggett, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Considering the large amount of UK participants, this is a very interesting study which highlights that obesity remains a risk factor for heart attacks in both men and women. "Interestingly, it suggests that those of us who are 'apple' as opposed to 'pear' shape, especially women, may be at higher risk of a heart attack.” The researchers say their findings suggest the differences in the way men and women store fat may affect their risk of heart disease. While more research is needed, these findings do support the notion that being “apple shape” (having proportionally more fat around the abdomen) is more hazardous for your health than being “pear shape” (having proportionally more fat stored around the hips. The full findings of the research can be found in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Just one cigarette a day can increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke, a study has found, dispelling the myth that cutting back, not quitting altogether, can eliminate health issues. The study found that just one cigarette a day can increase a person’s chances of heart disease by about 50% and chances of a stroke by 30% than people who have never smoked. The bottom line is that there is no safe level of smoking when it comes to heart disease and stroke. Cardiovascular disease, not cancer, remains the greatest mortality risk for smokers, accounting for approximately 48% of smoking-related premature deaths. And while the number of people who smoke in the UK has been falling, the percentage of people smoking one to five cigarettes a day has been steadily rising, researchers said. However, cutting down on cigarettes is always a good start and people who do so are more likely to quit in the long-run. Prof Allan Hackshaw from the UCL Cancer Institute at University College London, who led the study, said: "There's been a trend in quite a few countries for heavy smokers to cut down, thinking that's perfectly fine, which is the case for things like cancer. "But for these two common disorders, which they're probably more likely to get than cancer, it's not the case. They've got to stop completely." For the study, the researchers at UCL analysed data from 141 separate smoking-related studies and published their findings in the BMJ.
Researchers at an Oxford hospital have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that can accurately diagnose heart and lung scans. The new AI could lead to more people being diagnosed earlier and prevent patients being sent home when they are still at risk of having a heart attack. It’s though the system will save the NHS billions of pounds by enabling various diseases to be detected much earlier. The heart disease technology will be available to NHS hospitals for free this summer. Currently, cardiologists use a person’s heartbeat to tell if there is a problem. However, even the most experienced doctors get it wrong in one in five cases. This leads to a patient being sent home when they are still at risk of a heart attack or undergoing an unnecessary operation. The AI system can pick up details on the scans that doctors cannot see, resulting in a more accurate diagnosis. So far, the system has been tested in clinical trials and the results aren’t expected to appear in a peer-reviewed journal until later this year. However, one of the system’s developers has said the data shows it greatly outperformed his fellow specialists. The government's healthcare tsar, Sir John Bell, has indicated that AI could "save the NHS". "There is about £2.2bn spent on pathology services in the NHS. You may be able to reduce that by 50%. AI may be the thing that saves the NHS," he said.
We recently reported that childhood obesity rates are 10 times higher today than they were in 1975. This worrying trend is only set to continue unless more is done to tackle obesity in children. So-called “sugar taxes” on soft drinks in various countries around the world and France’s decision to ban unlimited fizzy drinks in restaurants, fast food-chains, schools and holiday camps, are definitely steps in the right direction. Now, hospitals in England have laid out plans to ban the sale of any sweets or chocolate that contain more than 250 calories. Going forward, super-sized chocolate bars will become a thing of the past in hospital vending machines and canteens. In addition, pre-packed sandwiches with more than 450 calories and/or 5g of saturated fat per 100g will also be banned. Hospitals will be given a cash boost to help them facilitate the changes. The decision to ban fattening and sugary food products in hospitals is actually win-win for the National Health Service (NHS). These foods are major contributors to obesity and many other conditions/diseases, such as preventable diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and cancer – all of which put enormous strain on the health service. Public Health England says hospitals have an "important role" in tackling obesity and not just dealing with the consequences.
Calcium is well-known for its role in promoting healthy bones, but a new study suggests it could also be beneficial for heart health too. Cardiac arrest, or heart attack, is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today. In fact, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately 350,000 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests (SCAs) occur in America every year. Furthermore, almost 90% of people who experience SCA die as a result. The primary cause of SCA is coronary heart disease. However, around 50% of women and 70% of men who die from SCA have no medical history of heart disease, suggesting other significant risk factors are at play. For the study, researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, CA, analysed data from the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study. They found that the risk of SCA was increased by 2.3-fold for people who had the lowest blood calcium levels (under 8.95 milligrams per deciliter). More importantly, this risk remained after confounding factors, including demographics, cardiovascular risk factors and medication use, were accounted for. Dr. Hon-Chi Lee, of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, said: “This is the first report to show that low serum calcium levels measured close in time to the index event are independently associated with an increased risk of SCA in the general population”.
Coronary arteries are the main blood vessels that supply the heart. Sometimes, these arteries can become narrowed or blocked, which can lead to the flow of blood to the heart becoming restricted. A coronary angioplasty is a surgical procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries. You may be surprised to learn that it is carried out using local anaesthetic and did you know that it involves a tiny balloon? The surgeon makes a tiny incision in your groin, arm or wrist and inserts a catheter. This is then guided to your affected coronary artery using an X-ray video. A tiny balloon is then inserted into the artery via the catheter. The balloon is then inflated to squash any fatty deposits against the wall of the artery widening it once more. This allows blood to flow freely again after the balloon is removed. A stent is sometimes also added and enters the artery at the same time as the balloon. It remains in place after the balloon has been deflated and removed to ensure the artery remains in the best possible shape to allow blood to flow freely going forward. The entire procedure only takes around 30 minutes to two hours and most patients are allowed to go home after just one or two days.
Whether you call them love handles or muffin tops, the areas of built up fat that can appear above your waistline are something that many people would love to be able to easily get rid of. A new patch developed by scientists in the US could provide the easy fix people have been looking for. The novel patch delivers fat-browning drugs directly into the areas of fat and converts "bad" white fat into "good" brown fat - not only reducing the amount of excess fat, but also lowering fasting blood glucose levels. Having too much white fat - particularly around the abdominal region - can raise the risk of several health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. So far, the patches have only been trialled on mice, but it’s hoped that they can be developed for human use in the future. Study co-leader Li Qiang, Ph.D., from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said the patches could offer a great alternative to existing drugs that promote fat browning. Their non-invasive nature can reduce side effects. "The nanoparticles were designed to effectively hold the drug and then gradually collapse, releasing it into nearby tissue in a sustained way instead of spreading the drug throughout the body quickly," says study co-leader Zhen Gu, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
A study by Public Health England looking at the heart health of the nation has found that thousands of men face early death at the hands of a heart attack or stroke. In fact, according to the analysis of 1.2 million people, one in 10 British men has a heart age that’s a decade older than their actual age. Heart disease is the main cause of death among men and the second among women. Public Health England says that 7,400 people will die from heart disease or stroke this month alone. However, most of these deaths are preventable and Public Health England says that just a few small lifestyle changes can have a positive impact. One of the suggestions made was for over 50s to get their blood pressure regularly checked as high blood pressure can be an early sign of a potentially life-threatening condition. Public Health England’s head of cardiovascular disease, Jamie Waterall, urged people not to only start considering their heart health later in life. "Addressing our risk of heart disease and stroke should not be left until we are older", he said. How to improve your heart health: Give up smoking Get active Manage your weight Eat more fibre Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day Cut down on saturated fat Cut down on salt Drink less alcohol
People who are overweight or obese, despite appearing medically healthy, are still at increased risk of heart disease, experts warn. The notion that people can be ‘fat but fit’ is being challenged by research published in the European Heart Journal. According to the researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, who studied health data relating to more than half a million people in 10 European countries, weight is still a heart disease risk factor even if someone has normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The study found that people who appeared healthy, with healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar readings, were still 28% more likely to develop heart disease than individuals with health bodyweights. Even more at risk were people who were overweight or obese and had high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Dr Ioanna Tzoulaki, from Imperial's School of Public Health, said: "I think there is no longer this concept of healthy obese. "If anything, our study shows that people with excess weight who might be classed as 'healthy' haven't yet developed an unhealthy metabolic profile. "That comes later in the timeline, then they have an event, such as a heart attack”. So the advice if you want to maintain a healthy heart is to watch your weight, even if you think you are fit.
Coconut oil is higher in saturated fat than butter, beef dripping and pork lard, and can increase “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. That’s the stark new warning contained in updated advice from the American Heart Association (AHA). A diet high in saturated fat can lead to clogged arteries and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Despite coconut oil being commonly sold as a health food and a “healthier” alternative to other saturated fats, the AHA says there are no good studies to support this. In fact, 82% of the fat found in coconut oil is saturated, which is higher than butter (63%), beef dripping (50%) and pork lard (39%). And studies show that like other saturated fats, coconut oil can increase “bad” cholesterol. The AHA says people should watch how much saturated fat they eat and replace some of it with unsaturated vegetable oils, like olive oil and sunflower oil. Dr Frank Sacks, lead author of the AHA advice, said: "We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels." Nevertheless, saturated fat is still an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet and shouldn’t be completely cut out, just limited. In the UK, Public Health England advises that men should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day and women no more than 20g a day.
A vaccine that helps lower cholesterol will now be trialled on humans following successful studies in mice. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna will now test the safety of their experimental treatment – which stops fatty deposits clogging the arteries – on 72 volunteers. If the trials are successful, the vaccine would offer an alternative for people who currently take pills on a daily basis to reduce their risk of angina, stroke and heart attack. Writing about their cholesterol-lowering vaccine in the European Heart Journal, Dr Guenther Staffler and colleagues from The Netherlands Organisation of Applied Scientific Research say it will take many more years of tests before it is known whether the treatment is safe and effective in humans. In studies of mice, the treatment cut low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) by as much as 50% over 12 months and appeared to stop the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries. Regardless of whether the vaccine becomes available in the future, the researchers were keen to stress that it should not be seen as an excuse for people to avoid exercise and eat lots of high-fat food. Nevertheless, the treatment could be useful for individuals who have high cholesterol due to an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia.
A study of nearly a million UK adults has found that being married appears to be good for your health, boosting your chances of survival if you have a major heart risk factor, like high cholesterol. All of the individuals involved in the study had high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes and the researchers discovered the ones who were married fared much better than those who were single. Dr Paul Carter and colleagues from Aston Medical School presented the findings of their study at the British Cardiovascular Society conference. They believe that having something special in your life is what’s important, rather than simply being married. At the end of their 14-year ACALM study, the researchers found that married men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s with high cholesterol had a 16% greater chance of being alive than their single counterparts. Dr Carter said: "We need to unpick the underlying reasons a bit more, but it appears there's something about being married that is protective, not only in patients with heart disease but also those with heart disease risk factors. "We're not saying that everyone should get married though. "We need to replicate the positive effects of marriage and use friends, family and social support networks in the same way." Dr Mike Knapton, of the British Heart Foundation, said: "The take-home message is that our social interactions, as well as medical risk factors such as high blood pressure, are important determinants of both our health and wellbeing. "Whether you are married or not, if you have any of the main risk factors for heart disease, then you can call upon loved ones to help you to manage them."
While the association between a lack of exercise and an increased risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, is well-established, new research shows that just 14 days of physical inactivity can increase a person's risk of such conditions. A study by the University of Liverpool found that young, healthy adults who switched from moderate-to-vigorous activity and then to near-sedentary behaviour for just 14 days experienced metabolic changes that could raise their risk of chronic disease and even premature death. Presenting their findings at the European Congress on Obesity 2017 in Portugal, Study leader Dr. Dan Cuthbertson and colleagues said that reducing physical activity for just 14 days led to a loss of skeletal muscle mass in the participants. However, the reduction of physical activity for 14 days also led to an increase in total body fat. Furthermore, said body fat was most likely to accumulate centrally, which the team notes is a significant risk factor for chronic disease. Current guidelines recommend that adults aged 18-64 undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity every week. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that fewer than 50% of adults meet these exercise recommendations. Are you doing enough exercise each week? Even just small lifestyle changes can make a big difference when it comes to your risk of chronic disease.
People with non-O blood could be at greater risk of stroke and heart attack, research suggests. Scientists say it's because A, B and AB blood contains higher levels of a blood-clotting protein. The research, which was presented at the 4th World Congress on Acute Heart Failure, analysed studies involving 1.3m people. It found that people 15 in 1,000 people with non-O blood suffered a heart attack, compared to 14 in 1,000 people with O blood. While these figures don't sound that startling at first, when applied to a whole population the numbers become more important. It is hoped that the findings will help doctors better identify who is at risk of developing heart disease. However, Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the findings would not have a large impact on the current advice issued by the charity. "Most of a person's risk estimation is determined by age, genetics (family history and ethnicity) and other modifiable risk factors including diet, weight, level of physical activity, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. "People with a non-O blood group type - AO, BO and AB - need to take the same steps as anyone wanting to reduce their CVD risk." So regardless of your blood type, the advice remains the same: improve your diet, weight, level of physical activity and don't smoke. In addition, manage blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes too. There's nothing you can do about your blood group, but you can make positive lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
More than 20 million people in Britain are physically inactive and increasing their risk of heart disease, according to a new report by the British Heart Foundation. The charity has warned that the lack of exercise by such a large proportion of the British population is costing the NHS a staggering £1.2bn each year. Women are 36% more likely than men to be physically inactive, which the report defines as not meeting the UK government's guidelines for physical activity - 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity and strength exercises on two or more days a week. However, despite the report finding that 11.8 million women were physically inactive compared with 8.3 million men, it is actually men who sit down for longer (78 days a year compared to 74 for women). Furthermore, inactivity levels differ by region. For example, 47% (2.7 million) of people living in the North West of England were found to be inactive, whereas people in the South East had the lowest rate at 34%. Over five million deaths across the world each year are attributed to physical inactivity, making it one of the top 10 leading causes of death. In the UK, physical inactivity contributes to almost one in 10 premature deaths from coronary heart disease each year, as well as one in six deaths from any cause. Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour in the UK remain stubbornly high, and, combined, these two risk factors present a substantial threat to our cardiovascular health and risk of early death.