Monthly Archives: December 2017

Could Women’s Hearts be More Sensitive to Stress?

heart, mind, health, stress

Stress of the mind can hurt your heart.

Your heart is racing. Your palms are sweaty. Sometimes you may feel dizzy, disoriented, or nauseous. These are all potential symptoms when you are faced with a stressful situation. However, one of the most dangerous symptoms of stress is constriction of blood vessels. A recent study has found that women may be more at risk for heart-related health problems in response to stress.

What is stress?

Stress is a normal reaction to the demands of life that can affect both the body and mind. A little bit can be healthy to remind you to be more alert or more motivated. However, too much can contribute to a variety of health conditions such as:

  • ulcers
  • digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • asthma
  • headaches
  • back pain

In addition to such conditions, stress can also increase blood pressure, which can in turn increase risk of heart disease. This is due to the body’s response to a perceived threat. The body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode in which the body constricts blood vessels to provide more blood flow to the major organs. Also, digestion slows to keep the body focused on providing blood to the brain and the heart.  However, if anxiety or chronic exposure to the perceived threat(s) occurs, then this response can negatively impact health.

Women, Stress, and the Heart

A recent study in the journal Arteriosclerosis looked at 678 people with coronary artery disease, or plaques in the major arteries that affects blood flow. Each person was asked to engage in public speaking, a commonly known fear of many, to see if it triggered myocardial ischemia, or a reduction of blood flow in the heart.

About 15-percent of study subjects triggered myocardial ischemia. Men and women were affected by this condition at a similar rate, but the cause was different.  In men, blood flow was mostly affected by high blood pressure and increased heart rate. On the other hand, in women it was caused by a constriction of blood vessels, also known as microvascular dysfunction. The difference between the two reactions is that in men, the perceived fear increased workload on the heart. However, in women, the dysfunction of vessels impaired blood flow.  It is not known whether this increased incidence of myocardial ischemia can increase risk of heart disease, but such studies are being planned.

Healthy Ways to Deal With Stress

You can help decrease stress, and in turn, lower risk of heart disease in a variety of ways.  The following list includes way you can lower stress on both your body and mind.

  • Limit coffee and caffeine since such constrict blood vessels, thus impacting blood flow. Two to three cups a day is suggested for adequate health benefit.
  • Quit or don’t smoke since smoking can also constrict blood vessels, and in turn blood flow, this increasing heart disease risk.
  • Live a balanced life. It is important to make sure that as hard as you work in your job and in exercising, you should also rest your body just as readily. A good balance of rest and activity is around 30 minutes a day of moderate activity such as walking combined with about 7 hours of sleep each night.  Being both active and resting well each night are important for the regulation of body fluids, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels in the body, among other things.
  • Be mindful in everything you do. When you are more mindful and aware of the choices you make each day, it can eliminate a lot of stress on the body.  The following are a list of small things you can do each day to be more mindful and in turn reduce stress on your body inside and out.
    • Plan and prep meals and snacks ahead of time.
    • Make healthy choices at meal and snack time such as less processed food and more fresh foods.
    • Portion out food choices to prevent excess intake.
    • Set a designated bedtime to help your body get more rest.
    • Make a to-do list to keep track of your weekly tasks and delegate any tasks that you can to others.
    • When you get stressed, give yourself a time-out with relaxation breathing to help you better face the situation at hand.
    • Make time for yourself in your schedule by setting aside 15 minutes a day to meditate, read, or do something your enjoy to give your body and mind a break.
  • Take supplements to help with sleep and managing stress. There are many herbal supplements on the market that claim to help with sleep and stress. However, it is important to do your research. Perhaps the supplement most well-known for its sleep-inducing properties is melatonin. It is actually a hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland that affects the sleep/wake cycle and produces drowsiness. Those that may be deficient in this hormone may experience trouble sleeping or insomnia. However, it is important to remember that since it is a hormone, it may not be suitable for everyone, so be sure to check with your doctor first before starting a melatonin regimen.

Another supplement to try is Sereneo by Vita Sciences. Sereneo contains a combination of magnesium, chamomile, and valerian to help promote a feeling of calm by working to help reduce stress and anxiety. Valerian and chamomile have been found to be safe, natural herbal remedies to help induce sleep, while magnesium has been found to help promote reduced anxiety and irritability. Be sure to let your healthcare provider know before starting any new supplement regimen to be sure it does not interact with any of your currently prescribed medications.

-written  by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

Sources:

American Heart Association (June 2014) “Fight Stress with Healthy Habits”

American Heart Association (June 2014) “Stress and Heart Health”

Berkeley Wellness (October 1, 2013) “Can Supplements Help You Sleep?”

Centers for Disease Control (March 2, 2017) “How Much Sleep Do I Need?”

Deans, M.D., E. (June 12, 2011) “Magnesium and the Brain: The Original Chill Pill.” Psychology Today.

Harvard Medical School: Division of Sleep Medicine (December 18, 2007) “The Characteristics of Sleep”

Mayo Clinic (March 31, 2017) “Stress Management”

Medline Plus (December 21, 2017) “Are Women’s Hearts More Vulnerable to Stress?”

Rodale Wellness (August 25, 2017) “4 Sleep Supplements That Actually Work”

 


  • Could a Cup of Tea a Day Lower Your Glaucoma Risk?

    tea, antioxidant, healthOn a cold winter’s day there is nothing better than a hot cup of tea to warm you up.  Depending upon the type of tea you consume, this warm beverage could provide you with a variety of different antioxidants to help benefit your health. In fact, a recent study has shown that a cup of hot tea every day may help reduce glaucoma risk.

    What is Glaucoma?

    Glaucoma is the name for a variety of different eye conditions that involve damage to the optic nerve. Usually caused by an extreme amount of pressure in the eye, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. The most common form of this condition may not present any symptoms until it is too late. Therefore, it is very important to get regular eye check-ups to reduce your risk of eye health issues.

    About Tea

    Tea is a low-calorie beverage that can have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  These benefits stem from the presence of the polyphenols epicatechin and catechin in tea. In particular, drinking green tea was shown to help lower LDL cholesterol, higher HDL cholesterol, and lower triglyceride levels.

    Tea and Glaucoma Risk

    A recent study looked at the results of a eye exam and nutrition survey of 1700 participants.  Those people that drank tea every day had about a 75-percent less chance of having glaucoma than those who did not.  It is not certain what about tea drinkers makes them at lower risk. However,  this lower risk was only seen in those that drank hot, caffeinated tea.  Consuming decaf tea, cold tea, or either decaf or caffeinated coffee did not show any benefit. It is thought that lower glaucoma risk may be due to the lifestyle factors in those that drank hot tea six times or more per week. More studies will need to be done to identify the direct link.

    Other Ways to Lower Glaucoma Risk

    Besides drinking hot tea, there are several other ways to lower your glaucoma risk.  The researchers suggest that prevention through regular eye exams is key, along with the following lifestyle behaviors.

    • Get your heart health under control. By getting your blood pressure and diabetes under control, you can help decrease your risk of glaucoma.
    • Use treatments as prescribed. Prescribed eye drops or other glaucoma medications can help reduce the risk of complications associated with the condition. In turn, treating such symptoms can prevent or delay the onset of vision problems associated with this condition.
    • Exercise regularly. Walking or engaging in some sort of moderate exercise each day could help reduce the eye pressure related to glaucoma.  Moderate exercise may include swimming, biking, aerobics, dancing, or anything that quickens your breathing without getting you out of breath.
    • Wear eye protection. Be sure to wear sunglasses or goggles in the sunlight or when  using any power tools or engaging in any high-speed racket sports. This is because when you reduce your risk of eye injuries, you also help reduce glaucoma risk.
    • Take eye-healthy supplements.  Ocutain by Vita Sciences contains a combination of eye-healthy compounds such as lutein and beta carotene, which promote healthy vision. Such supplements, along with a heart healthy diet may help lower your risk of eye conditions such as glaucoma.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

    Sources:

    Cochran, N. (January 12, 2017) “The Health Benefits of Tea”

    Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School (August 2014) “Tea: A Cup of Good Health?”

    Mayo Clinic (September 15, 2015) “Glaucoma”

    Mayo Clinic (May 19, 2017) “Exercise intensity: How to measure it”

    Medline Plus (December 15, 2017) “Could a Hot Cup of Tea Preserve Your Vision?”

     

     


  • Can One Day of Exercise Protect Your Heart for Days?

    heart, heart health, exercise, cardiovascular, workout

    If you have ever tried to lose weight, you have likely been told to move more and exercise.  This statement may sound pretty generic, however it is true.  Although the Health and Human Services suggests working out at moderate intensity for 150 minutes a week, a recent report has found that even just one high-quality session of pre-conditioning the heart could keep your heart healthy all week long.

    What is moderate exercise?

    According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate exercise is an intensity in which you can carry a conversation, but cannot sing. For example, if your breathing quickens, but you are not quite out of breath, then you are engaging in moderate exercise.  Examples of moderate exercise may include:

    • walking briskly
    • gardening
    • ballroom dancing
    • water aerobics
    • biking slower than 10 miles per hour

    Exercise and Heart Health Research

    Animal studies have shown that one session of exercise can protect the heart for the rest of the week. This is based on infarct size, or size of an area of necrosis in an organ caused by obstruction of blood circulation.  The pre-conditioning exercise studied has been shown to reduce infract size, in turn reducing risk of heart disease.  This pre-conditioning involves training the heart during periods of ischemia, or reduced blood flow. In turn, the training is expected to reduce infarct size during periods of occlusion, or vessel blockage.

    These types of studies have not yet been done in humans. However, researchers feel that there is great promise for this type of therapy to be done with patients in the days before a scheduled heart surgery or procedure. It is thought that such “cardio protection” could help lower risk of complications or death and improve overall health outcomes.

    Other Heart Healthy Things You Can Do Each Week

    Besides exercise, there are plenty of things you can do each week to help improve your heart health.

    • Eat more fruits and vegetables: The fiber and nutrients found in fruits and vegetables has been shown to help lower risk of heart disease. Some examples of these nutrients include folate, magnesium, potassium, as well as vitamins A, C, and K. Also, non-starchy vegetables, or those vegetables other than corn, peas, and potatoes, are low in calories. Therefore, such foods can be eaten in great volumes to fill you up without putting you over your suggested calorie intake for the day.
    • Eat less processed foods: Boxed goods, frozen or prepackaged convenience meals, and canned soups are just some examples of processed foods that can hurt your heart. The reason you should limit such foods is because they can often be high in sodium, fat, and sugars that are used to make these products last longer in your pantry or refrigerator.  High sodium foods in particular can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
    • Manage stress: Stress can also contribute to high blood pressure.  In addition, when you are stressed, you may eat more sweets and other comfort foods more often. Over time, this emotional eating can lead to weight gain. In turn, weight gain can increase your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. You should find ways to manage stress such as:
      • talking to a friend or counselor
      • taking a yoga or meditation class
      • performing relaxation breathing
      • listening to music
      • using essential oils
      • engaging in some sort of “me time” every day. “Me time” involves some time each day in which you engage in an activity you enjoy that gives you time to yourself to breathe.
    • Take heart-healthy supplements: Besides a multivitamin each day, you may want to consider a heart healthy supplement such as Circova if you are at risk for heart disease. Circova is a supplement by Vita Sciences that contains Hawthorne extract as well as  antioxidants such as flavonoids and catechins that have been shown to improve blood flow and blood pressure.
    • Visit your doctor regularly: Be sure to visit your healthcare provider on a regular basis to get your blood pressure checked and to assess your heart disease risk. For most people, once a year is sufficient. However, if you have high blood pressure or a history of heart disease or diabetes, then you may want to visit more often such as every 6 months.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

    Sources:

    American Heart Association (March 2014) “Moderate to Vigorous: What is Your Level of Intensity?”

    American Heart Association (May 15, 2015) “Can antioxidants in fruits and vegetables protect you and your heart?”

    Lou N. (November 30, 2017) “One Workout May Protect Heart from Ischemia for Hours or Days.” Medpage Today 

    Mayo Clinic (May 19, 2017) “Exercise Intensity: How to Measure It”

    Mayo Clinic (July 25, 2015) “Myocardial Ischemia”

    Merriam-Webster Dictionary (accessed December 11, 2017) “Infarct”


  • Could Coffee Help You Live Longer?

    coffee, lengthen life, health

    If you’re like me, the day does not begin until I have had my cup of coffee. Whether it be the aroma, the caffeine, or the wake up signal to my digestive system, my body craves coffee from the moment I rise from my evening slumber.  Over the years, there have been mixed reviews about whether or not this common habit was helping or harming us. However, a recent report has found that coffee may actually help you live longer.

    Coffee and Health

    Caffeine may be the first benefit you think about receiving when consuming your cup of joe. However, research has found that energy is not the only good thing that comes from consuming this beverage. Three cups of coffee a day has been found to be the magic number that can provide lower risk of many health conditions including:

    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Uterine and liver cancer

    The only exceptions to these positive findings include some studies of unfiltered forms of coffee. French press or espresso, which contain the substances cafestol and kahweol, may slightly increase cholesterol levels.  However, the decreased risk of many health conditions seems to outweigh such negative findings. A 2015 study found that consumption of the beverage is linked to an approximate 8 to 15 percent reduction in risk of death, with more benefits linked to those who drank more.  In addition, a June 2016 report by the World Health Organization removed coffee from its list of potentially carcinogenic foods.

    Coffee and Longer Life

    A recent report has found that moderate consumption of coffee, or about three cups a day, has been linked to:

    • lower risk of cancers of the prostate, endometrium, skin and liver.
    • decreased risk of type 2 diabetes and better insulin and blood glucose control.
    • decreased risk of liver disease, gout, and gallstones.
    • Lower incidence of cognitive conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s, depression, and Alzheimer’s.

    The health benefits of decreased heart disease and diabetes risk have been linked to the antioxidant effect of chlorogenic acid.  Also, the coffee lipids cafestol and kahweol have been linked to possible lower risk of certain cancers and liver disease.

    Researchers are not sure of the exact component of the beverage that provides the most health benefits. Also, there is no solid proof that coffee lowers risk of any disease. However, the link between decreased incidence of death and coffee intake is suggested to be a good enough reason to add a bit of the beverage to your daily routine.

    Other ways to Improve Length of Life

    Besides drinking coffee, there are many small things you can do each day to help improve your quality and quantity of life.

    • Eat a fiber-rich diet of fruits and vegetables. Sounds simple enough, but unfortunately just 12-percent of Americans actually eat the suggested 2 cups each of fruits and vegetables each day.  Not only do these types of foods contain digestive-friendly fiber, but also contain phytonutrients. Phytonutrients have been found to provide many anti-inflammatory benefits that have been found to help lower risk of chronic disease.
    • Stop smoking and lower alcohol intake.  Any substance that your body sees as a toxin will put strain on a your health. Smoking in particular constricts blood vessels, therefore increasing risk of heart disease. On the other hand, alcohol can put a strain on your liver since it will have to work extra hard to filter this toxin from your body.
    • Reduce stress and get plenty of sleep. Stress can affect sleep and lack of sleep can be stressful. Therefore, it is important to manage one to help the other.  Relaxation breathing, yoga, or talking to someone can help you manage stress. For sleep, talk to your doctor about specific medications or supplements, such as melatonin, that may help you catch some more Z’s.
    • Take vitamins and supplements daily.  If you are not getting enough nutrients from the food you eat, a vitamin and supplement regimen may help. A recent study in China has found a potential link between the health of the gut and longer life.  A probiotic supplement daily, such as Biovia 30X by Vita Sciences, may help improve diversity of gut bacteria in your body and promote improved digestive health and immune support.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

    Sources:

    Bian, G., et al. (2017) “The Gut Microbiota of Healthy Aged Chinese Is Similar to That of the Healthy Young.” mSphere, 2 (5): e00327-17 DOI: 10.1128/mSphere.00327-17

    Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School (January 2012) “What is it about coffee?”

    Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School (September 25, 2017) “The latest scoop on the health benefits of coffee.”

    Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School (September 2014; reviewed and updated October 31, 2017) “How to boost your immune system”

    Medline Health News (November 30, 2017) “Could Your Coffee Habit Lengthen Your Life?”

    Medline Health News (November 16, 2017) “CDC Wants America to Eat Its Fruit and Veggies”