Category Archives: cardiovascular

Could chocolate be heart healthy?

chocolate, cacao, antioxidant, heart healthCould it be?  Could the delicious sweetness of chocolate actually be good for you? The answer is yes, but in moderation.  Chock full of antioxidants, this delicious treat may be able to help you combat heart disease.  A recent study has shown that moderate consumption of chocolate can reduce risk of heart disease.

Where does chocolate come from?

Chocolate has been enjoyed for thousands of years as far back as the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations. They revered this delicious treat as the “food of the gods” and Central American Mayan Indians drank a spicy drink made from roasted cacao beans. Chocolate was enjoyed exclusively in this liquid form until Victorian times when it was devised as a solid food treat.

The basic form of solid chocolate is made from cocoa, cocoa butter from the cocoa bean, and sometimes up to 5-percent vegetable fat. More processed and lesser quality products will usually contain more fat and sugar and less cacao.

Chocolate and heart health

A recent meta-analysis study looked at 23 studies with over 400,000 adults, with 35,000 cases of heart disease.  Study results show that eating chocolate in moderation may actually reduce heart disease risk. When talking about moderate consumption of chocolate, this study defines it as 100 grams of chocolate per week. This is equal to about 2 standard chocolate bars.  When chocolate consumption exceeded 100 grams per week, chronic disease risk such as stroke risk and heart disease risk started to increase.

When choosing to consume chocolate as part of a heart healthy diet, be sure to look at the ingredients label.  Try to choose chocolate foods that are lower in sugar and higher in cacao. This is because added fat and sugar can make chocolate higher in calories with no real added nutrient benefit.

A higher cacao content can increase the concentration of antioxidants in chocolate. Cacao beans contains antioxidants known as flavonoids that are also found in various fruits and vegetables. These antioxidants can help improve blood pressure as well as improve blood flow to the heart. This in turn can help reduce risk of heart disease and related chronic diseases. Therefore, lean towards higher cacao percentage (around 70-percent or higher) and lower sugar content for the most health benefit.

Other heart healthy tips

Besides eating chocolate for heart health reduction, which is perhaps the most delicious medicine ever, there are other steps you can take to reduce your risk.

  • Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. This is because fruits and vegetables contain a slew of different antioxidants that can lower oxidative stress in the body’s cells. when you reduce the oxidative stress in the body, then you lower the risk of cell damage. When less cells are damaged, you can lower your chronic disease risk. Therefore, you should try to get at least 2 cups each of fruits and vegetables each day (or more!) for optimal health benefit.  Also, add in more fruits and vegetables for in-between meal snacks instead of sweets to help increase your total fiber and nutrient intake daily.
  • Stay active every day. This doesn’t mean you have to train for a marathon or attend boot camp classes. Just try to get your muscles moving every day by taking walks, going outside and gardening, or visiting your local community center for aerobic or dance classes each week.  A healthy level of activity would be to get at least 30 minutes each day of moderate activity for at least 5 days a week. You can do this exercise in shorter segments. Five minutes here and ten minutes there all counts towards this 30 minutes. And moderate activity is any exercise that increases your rate of breathing a bit and where you can carry a conversation, but can’t sing.
  • Take a heart healthy supplement each day. Sometimes the food you eat does not provide all the nutrients you need to stay your healthiest. In some cases, you may have vitamin deficiencies such as vitamin D or B12 deficiency that could affect your overall health status and well-being. That is why a multivitamin may be the right choice for you to help fill in the nutrition gaps. An example of a great multivitamin is Zestia by Vita Sciences. Zestia provides a comprehensive formula of 45 fruits and vegetables, a daily dose of a variety of essential vitamins and nutrients, as well as probiotics.

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

References:

Cadbury (accessed August 15, 2018) “What is chocolate?”

Ren, Y., et al (2018) “Moderate consumption of chocolate may reduce CVD risk.” 


  • Free your gut from inflammation with probiotics

    probiotic, fermented foods, health, gut healthProbiotics have become the talk of the town, and for good reason. Every day more research shows that taking probiotics can reduce inflammation in the gut, and in turn, may help reduce risk of inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, eczema, and inflammatory bowel disease. Therefore, adding a probiotic to your daily routine may be the answer to help free your gut, and in turn your body, from inflammation.

    What is inflammation?

    Inflammation is a response to injury, infection, or foreign bodies in the body. This process is often linked with redness, swelling, and pain. In the body, however, can be a good thing since inflammation helps to get rid of any toxins and help the body heal.  However, too much of just about anything can be a bad thing.

    Oxidative stress, along with inflammation, is often associated with chronic disease risk. When the body’s cells encounter oxidative stress, cell damage may occur, and in turn, chronic disease risk may increase.  Oxidative stress occurs, by definition, when there is an imbalance in prooxidant stress and antioxidant defense.  This occurs when free radicals, or any species with one or more unpaired electrons, steal electrons from other cells to become paired. In doing this, a chain reaction of free radical formation is set off. This  in turn can lead to cell damage.

    What are probiotics?

    Probiotics are living organisms such as bacteria or fungi, that have health benefits.  You may see probiotics in your local grocery store or health food market. It can be confusing to know which strain(s) will be most beneficial for you.  The key will be to find a probiotic product that is diverse in the amount of strains that it contains, so that you can benefit from a wide variety of bacterium.

    For example, one diverse probiotic product is Biovia 30 by Vita Sciences. This probiotic product contains 30 billion colony forming units of 10 important Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains.

    How can I benefit from probiotics?

    Probiotics can help restore balance of bacterium in the gut. This can help reduce inflammation in the body and reduce chronic disease risk.  The benefits of probiotics range from lowering cholesterol to strengthening the immune system.  In addition, probiotics can help improve symptoms in those with digestive conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. Furthermore, there is evidence that those with skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and acne may benefit from probiotic treatment.

    You can add probiotics in your diet by consuming more fermented food or by taking a probiotic supplement. You can add some probiotic-containing foods to your diet such as:

    • sauerkraut
    • kimchi
    • kefir
    • yogurt
    • miso
    • tempeh

    It is also beneficial that if you consume probiotics in any form, that you also consume prebiotics, or foods to help feed the probiotics in your gut.  Examples of prebiotic foods include:

    • fruits such as bananas
    • vegetables such as asparagus, soybeans, garlic onion, leeks, and artichokes
    • whole-grain foods such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, and bran cereal
    • Flaxseeds

    Therefore, free yourself from inflammation in your body today by adding some pre- and probiotics to your daily routine.

    References:

    Baek, J. and Lee, M-G. (2016) “Oxidative stress and antioxidant strategies in dermatology.” Redox Report, 21(4): 164-169.

    Biswas, S.K. (2016) “Does the Interdependence between Oxidative Stress and Inflammation Explain the Antioxidant Paradox?” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, Volume 2016(Article ID 5698931): 9 pages.

    Nagpal, R., et al. (2012) “Probiotics, their health benefits and applications for developing healthier foods: a review.” FEMS Microbiology Letters, 334(2012): 1-15.

    NIH News in Health (May 2017) “Keeping Your Gut in Check: Healthy Options to Stay on Tract.”

    Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN, T. (February 27, 2018) “Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Online.

     


  • Could exercise reduce inflammation in the body?

    exercise, inflammation, health, obesityWhether you walk, run, swim, cycle, or dance, exercise is a great way to keep your heart in tip top shape.  Exercise is also recommended for weight loss, controlling blood glucose levels, and even for helping reduce stress by releasing endorphins.  Recent research has shown that exercise may also be good for reducing inflammation in the body, and in turn reducing your risk for many chronic diseases.

    Inflammation and oxidative stress

    Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection that results in redness, swelling, and painful. It is part of the body’s immune response to such foreign bodies or substances. Inflammation can lead to oxidative stress, which can damage cells and in turn increase risk of chronic disease states.

    Exercise and Inflammation

    A recent study in the Journal of Physiology looked at the impact of exercise on the health of obese individuals.  Inflammation has been linked to many obesity-related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, exercise therapy to reduce weight and improve heart health may reduce such inflammation.

    A group of young, obese adults participated in a six-week exercise program that involved three 60-minute bicycling or treadmill-running sessions each week. Blood samples taken at the start and end of the study. These samples reveal that the exercise regimen produced a decline in stem cells that create the blood cells responsible for inflammation.  This study shows promise that exercise may help obese individuals to reduce risk of chronic disease as well as others with inflammatory disease status. However, further study of the effects of blood changes on energy consumption, fat storage, and other inflammatory conditions is warranted.

    Other ways to decrease inflammation

    Besides exercise, inflammation can be reduced in the body in various ways. Oxidative stress, which is linked to inflammation, can be reduced by diet changes and improvements in gut health as well. Here are some ways you can reduce inflammation through your daily intake.

    • Plant-based diets have shown to decrease inflammation. A 2016 study found that a plant-based diet can help reduce levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein in the body.  Research suggests that plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts contain antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress in the body.  Therefore, be sure to add in plant-based foods in your diet at each meal to help reduce inflammation in the body.
    • Stay as natural as possible in your diet. Try to consume mostly whole plant-based foods versus processed foods so you can get the full antioxidant benefit.  In addition, additives and preservatives in processed foods may increase oxidative stress in the body.
    • Quit smoking or don’t start. Smoking of any kind can introduce chemicals into the body that can cause oxidative stress. Not to mention that smoking can increase blood pressure and heart disease risk by constricting blood vessels.
    • Reduce pollutant and other stress exposure. Staying out in the sun for too long without protective clothing or mineral-based sunscreen can increase oxidative damage to cells.  Also, exposure to pollutants such as car exhaust, industrial smoke, and other chemical-based substances can increase oxidative stress. Therefore, try to reduce your exposure to such things to decrease inflammation in the body.
    • Probiotics may help decrease inflammation. More and more research shows that taking probiotics daily can help reduce oxidative stress in the body. Different probiotic strains can have different impacts on health. However, many probiotic strains have proven to possess ant-inflammatory qualities. Inflammatory conditions like acne and eczema, inflammatory bowel disease, and high cholesterol can improve with probiotic use. An example of a probiotic with a diverse array of strains is Biovia 30 by Vita Sciences which contains 30 billion colony forming units (CFU) to help promote digestive health. Therefore, consider adding a probiotic to your daily routine to help improve your overall health inside and out.

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

    Sources:

    Biswas, S.K. (2016) “Does the Interdependence between Oxidative Stress and Inflammation Explain the Antioxidant Paradox?” Hindawi Publishing Corporation, Volume 2016, Article ID 5698931, 9pp.

    Bjorklund, MD, G. and Chirumbolo, Ph.D., S. (January 2017) “Role of oxidative stress and antioxidants in daily nutrition and human health.”

    Eichelmann, F., Schwingshackl, L., Fedirko, V., and Aleksandrova, K. (November 2016) “Effect of plant-based diets on obesity-related inflammatory profiles: a systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention trials.” Obesity Reviews, 17(11): 1067-1079.

    Nagpal, R., et al. (2012) “Probiotics, their health benefits and applications for developing healthier foods: a review.”

    National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (accessed June 26, 2018) “Probiotics: In Depth.”

    NIH News in Health (May 2017) “Keeping Your Gut in Health.”

    Preidt, R. (June 20, 2018) “Exercise May Ease Inflammation Tied to Obesity.” HealthDay.


  • The Top 5 Ways to Lower Your Heart Disease Risk

    heart disease, heart health, fruits, vegetablesHeart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. It accounts for one in four deaths each year. However, yo can prevent heart disease by changing some lifestyle factors to lower your risk. Risk factors of heart disease include poor diet, physical inactivity, being overweight or obese, being a smoker, and having diabetes. Fortunately, by working to change a few things in your daily routine, you can lower your risk of heart disease. Here are the top five things you can do today to lower your risk of heart disease.

    1. Stop smoking or don’t start. Smoking can constrict your blood vessels and make it hard for oxygen-rich blood to get to your heart. In turn, this can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of smokers in the United States is at its lowest. However, there are still about 14-percent of Americans, or about 30 million people, who are still smoking. More and more young people are vaping instead of smoking, but experts worry that this is just another way for people to get addicted to nicotine. Therefore, no matter if its a cigarette, e-cigarette, or vaping device, stop smoking for your heart health. Contact Smokefree.gov to speak to an expert to help provide advice and resources to quit.
    2. Eat a more balanced diet. I’m sure you have been told time and time again to eat more fruits and vegetables. However, the fiber-rich quality and antioxidants in such foods can help reduce oxidative stress in the body, which can lower risk of chronic disease like heart disease and diabetes. Therefore, include fruits and vegetables with every meal, in a variety of colors to provide you with a diverse array of nutrients. Also, balance out your veggies with lean proteins like chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, and/or low-fat dairy products.  Stick to mostly whole, minimally processed foods to avoid unnecessary salt, sugar, and preservatives.
    3. Be more active. Try to move more each day to keep your heart strong. Walking, gardening, swimming, biking, or aerobics are some examples of ways you can incorporate some movement in your day. Try to get at least 30 minutes of activity at least 5 days a week. You can split this exercise into small segments of 5 and 10 minutes throughout the day if you need to for any reason.
    4. Manage stress. Stress can lead to poor sleep, high blood pressure, and lack of motivation to eat healthy or exercise. Therefore, stress can have a domino effect on your entire health status if not managed properly. If you feel you are unable to manage your stress, try talking with someone. A counselor or therapist can help you figure out strategies to manage your stress. You can also try yoga, meditation, relaxation breathing, and/or acupuncture to help you manage your stress and in turn lower your heart disease risk.
    5. Visit your healthcare provider regularly. Whether you have a history or family history of heart disease or not, you should visit your doctor regularly. You should have labs done at least once a year to check your cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. This is because life can change a lot in a year, and you can find yourself stuck in unhealthy lifestyle habits without even noticing unless an abnormal or high lab finding alerts you to it. Therefore, visit your doctor regularly, and even more often if you do have a history of heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic disease.

    Take your health journey one step at a time. In addition to the steps listed, you can also try adding supplements to your routine if you feel there are any nutrient gaps in your diet.  Try a heart healthy supplement like Presura or a multivitamin like Zestia by Vita Sciences. Changing your lifestyle may not be easy. However, the improvements in your quality of life you will be rewarded with will be worth it.

     

     

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

    Sources:

    Associated Press (June 19, 2018) “Smoking Hits New Low Among U.S. Adults.” 

    American Heart Association (updated May 17, 2018) “The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.” 

    Centers for Disease Control (November 28, 2017) “Heart Disease Facts.” 


  • Eat a healthier diet for a smaller waist, bigger brain.

    Everywhere you look you may see an ad for a new diet program that promises to help you lose weight.  Many people get sucked into the idea that they can lose weight fast on fad diets. However, these diets usually hard to stick with for the long term and may have long-term consequences. More and more research is finding that it is not necessarily the type of diet you are on that is good for health. However, the quality of food that you are eating is more important in health outcomes. And if you improve the quality of your diet, you may not only help your success with weight loss. New studies show that a healthier diet could also improve the strength and size of your brain.

    What is a fad diet?

    A fad diet is an eating regimen that promises big results, but may do so at the risk of your overall health. Such diets may involve:

    • A promise of rapid weight loss. It is important to remember that losing more than 1-2 pounds a week is not healthy long-term. Any more than this could also involve the loss of muscle, bone, and water.
    • Cutting out entire food groups or nutrients. A prime example of this is the low carbohydrate trend that continues on.  Although there are some benefits to this type of diet, some may not follow it healthfully and may restrict nutrient and fiber-rich vegetables and fruits too much. This could lead to nutrient deficiencies long term.  In addition, the lack of long-term studies on the effects of such popular diets can put your long-term health at risk. An example of this is the high-fat, moderate protein, very low carb keto diet.  Although there are some studies that show positive heart health benefits, there are also studies that show long-term negative health effects on insulin resistance and liver health. Until larger and more randomized, placebo-controlled studies are done on such eating regimens, they should not be taken lightly.
    • A diet that is hard to follow and limits the times you can eat. Many diets out there can help you lose weight. Of course cutting out food groups and severely restricting the foods you can eat can help you shed pounds. This is because they are basically just placing you on a low calorie diet hidden behind a shiny new veil.  However, many of these diets are also hard to follow. If a diet is so restrictive that you can’t stick to it long-term then it is not going to be effective in providing any health benefits that it could offer. And diets that limit the times you eat during the day may show some benefit such as helping you to limit snacking. However, long-term and larger studies need to be done before benefits of such limited eating times can be confirmed.

    Effect of healthy diet on brain health

    A dutch study of about 4200 people 45 years and older looked at quality of diet and brain health. Study results show that those with higher diet quality scores had brains about 2 millimeters bigger than those with lower scores. This may not seem like a lot, except when you consider that the brain shrinks 3.66 millimeters every year. This means that a healthier diet could help prevent 6 months of aging in the brain. Healthy-fat based diets such as the Mediterranean diet has found similar results. It is suggested that any diet good for the heart will be good for the brain since it will help improve blood flow in the body.

    Improve your diet by taking care of your heart

    Besides eating plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, there are certain things you can do to improve the heart health of your diet. This can, in turn, improve the brain healthy components of your eating routine too.

    • Add more healthy fats from fish: A recent study has found that consuming two 3.5-ounce servings of fish each week can help lower heart disease risk. Oily fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids are the best. Examples of this type of fish include salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, lake trout, and sardines.
    • Eat more plant-based healthy fats:  Other sources of heart healthy fats include plant-based foods such as olives, avocado, and olive oil.  Nuts, nut butters, and seeds like flax seed or chia seed are also examples of heart healthy fats.
    • Exercise more. Regular aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping, may boost the size of your brain and improve memory, according to a British Columbia study. It is recommended to engage in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Examples of such moderate exercise may include walking, light jogging, biking, or water aerobics. This 30 minutes a day can be broken up into 5 and 10 minute intervals if needed.
    • Take heart and brain healthy supplements. Adding supplements such as fish oil can help you get your daily dose of healthy fats even if you do not eat fish.  A quality fish oil is by Vita Sciences that provides 1000 milligrams of fish oil. This formula contains 400 milligrams of EPA and 300 milligrams of DHA. These components are well-known for their ability to support brain health.

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

    Sources:

    Godman, H. (April 9, 2014; updated April 5, 2018) “Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills.” Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School.

    Gordon, S. (May 16, 2018) “Better Diet, Bigger Brain.” HealthDay. 

    Kosinki, C. and Jornayvaz, F.R. (2017) “Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk
    Factors: Evidence from Animal and Human Studies.” Nutrients, 9: 517doi:10.3390/nu9050517

    Norton, A. (May 17, 2018) “Eat Fish Twice a Week to Ward Off Heart Disease, Experts Say.” HealthDay.

    Stockman, MC., Thomas, D., Burke, J. et al. Curr Obes Rep (2018) 7: 172. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-018-0308-9

    Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN, T. (January 2, 2017) “Staying Away from Fad Diets.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


  • Drinking more alcohol than suggested could shorten life

    alcohol, health, beer, wine, liquor, unhealthyIt’s Friday night and the weekend is just beginning.  After a long week of work, you may be thinking about that glass of wine or pint of beer to help you relax.  In moderation, there is nothing wrong with a few drinks on the weekend. However, a recent study has found that drinking more than the suggested amount each week can shorten your life.

    What is the recommended alcohol intake for most adults?

    General recommendations in the United States suggest that men consume no more than 2 standard alcoholic drinks a day and women consume no more than one daily. A standard drink is equal to:

    • 12 ounces beer (5% alcohol content)
    • 8 ounces malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
    • 5 ounces wine (12% alcohol content)
    • 1.5 ounces liquor (40% alcohol content)

    Any more than this recommendation is heavy drinking and can have negative health effects. More than 4 drinks at one occasion for a woman or 5 drinks for a man is considered binge drinking. Negative health effects of such heavy drinking include:

    • short term effects such as increased risk of falls, injuries, car crashes if driving while intoxicated, and increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex or violent behavior.
    • if pregnant and drinking, your unborn child could have increased risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, miscarriage, or stillbirth.
    • increased risk of heart disease, stoke, liver disease, and digestive problems
    • increased risk of anxiety and depression
    • learning and memory problems

    In addition to such health problems, long term drinking could lead to problems with family and friends if you become dependent on alcohol. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for resources on how to get help if you think you may have a drinking problem.

    Alcohol and life span

    A recent study in the medical journal Lancet found that for each alcoholic drink over 6 standard glasses of wine or 7 standard 12 oz beers a week could shorten your life by 30 minutes. This may not seem like a lot, but every minute can add up over time. This recommended amount is equal to about 12.5 units of alcohol.

    You may ask, “How did they come up with this number?”  The answer to this comes in the form of a study of about 600,000 current drinkers included in 83 studies from 19 countries. It was found that a 40-year old drinking just 2-3 standard drinks a week more than the suggested tipping point can lower their life expectancy by about 2 years.  This is likely due to the health effects listed above such as increased risk of heart disease, among other things.  This study helped support the United Kingdom’s proposed reduction in alcoholic drink recommendations. When following these guidelines, people had a 20-percent lower heart disease risk. Also, there was no increase in harm to health seen in terms of death rate in those who were compliant with the guidelines.

    Although some studies show that moderate drinking may help heart health, this study reports different results. Researchers suggest that a glass of red wine now and then may reduce the risk of a non-fatal heart attack. However, this positive health effect is offset against the increased risk of other health issues.

    Other ways to relax

    If drinking alcohol is a method you use to relax, then perhaps it is time to try healthier methods of lowering stress. Try a few of the methods below to replace happy hour, so you can live out the highest quality, and quantity of life possible.

    • Exercise each day with something as simple as a short walk. Just getting fresh air and sunshine on your face can help you feel better and more relaxed. Try to walk at least 3 to 5 times a week.
    • Breathe. Taking five deep breaths when you are stressed and practicing relaxation breathing before bed can help you to reduce stress.
    • Meditate and focus on all of the positive things in your life such as those things you have accomplished, what you are grateful for, to name a few.
    • Take breaks throughout the day. Even just a 5 minute break here and there during your work day can help. Rub some relaxing essential oil scents on your wrist or neck, go to the bathroom stall, sit down, and take several deep breaths. Release the stress from your mind and focus on your breath and the scent. You can also do this at home when you are feeling overwhelmed or just want to decompress after a long day.
    • Detox your life in a variety of ways to lighten your load of stress. You can do this by:
      • giving away clothes you don’t wear anymore.
      • cleaning your house and reorganizing your belongings.
      • self care such as a hot bath with relaxing essential oils like lavender, getting a massage, or getting your hair done.
      • writing in a journal or talking with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. Talking can help you to unload your brain of any fears, anxieties, or stress that may be bogging you down.
      • taking a supplement such as Sereneo by Vita Sciences to relax your mind. Sereneo contains ingredients such as valerian root, magnesium, and chamomile to help increase your levels of feel good serotonin.

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

    Sources:

    Boseley, S. (April 13, 2018) “Extra glass of wine a day ‘will shorten your life by 30 minutes.'” 

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (January 3, 2018) “Fact Sheets- Alcohol Use and Your Health.”

    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (updated April 18, 2018) “SAMHSA’s National Helpline.”

    Tartakovsky, M.S., M. (May 23, 2013) “20 Ways to Relax & Unwind.” 


  • Exercise to lower high blood pressure is not a popular idea

    blood pressure, heart health, hypertension, doctor, healthNearly half of all Americans have high blood pressure, or hypertension. Having hypertension can put you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke, which are two of the top five leading causes of death in the United States. Therefore, it is important that if you have high blood pressure that you should work to be more heart healthy to prevent chronic disease. This usually includes eating a heart healthy diet and exercising. However, a recent survey shows that exercise is the last thing people want to do to try and lower their blood pressure.

    About High Blood Pressure

    High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood through your blood vessels is too high.  When you go to the doctor to get your blood pressure checked, they look at two different numbers:

    • Systolic blood pressure, which is the top number of your blood pressure reading. This number is the force of the blood at each heart beat, or contraction.
    • Diastolic blood pressure, which is the bottom number of your blood pressure reading. This number is the force of blood through your vessels in between contractions.

    High blood pressure reading is 130 over 80 mmHg.  It used to be 140 over 90 mmHg, but was changed last year since it was found that those people who were at the time considered borderline hypertensive would be more likely to start helpful treatment for their blood pressure if diagnosed at this stage of hypertension.

    Blood Pressure Survey

    Researchers at Yale University performed a survey to find out what lifestyle interventions people were most likely to engage in to lower their blood pressure. Those people taking the survey had to choose from four options: taking a pill, drinking one cup of tea each day, exercising or getting a monthly or semi-annual injection. It was found that most people, about 79-percent would be willing to take a pill to get one extra month of life, while 78-percent would be willing to drink a cup of tea daily.  Furthermore, about 96-percent of people were willing to do either of these activities to gain five years of life. Exercising was one of the least popular interventions, slightly above taking a monthly injection, to lower blood pressure.

    Other Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

    Although exercise is a great way to gain and maintain heart health, there are other lifestyle factors you can tweak to improve your blood pressure.

    • Lose weight: Losing weight is not an easy thing to do. However, just a small amount of weight loss, like 10 pounds, could help lower your blood pressure.
    • Eat a heart healthy diet full of fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and lean proteins. Also, lower your intake of processed, salty and sugary foods to help improve your heart health.
    • Lowering alcohol intake to no more than one standard drink a day for women or two standard drinks a day for men can help your blood pressure. One standard drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
    • Quit smoking or don’t start since smoking can narrow blood vessels. In turn, this can make it harder for the heart to get the oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the rest of the body. Therefore, smoking not only puts your heart at risk, but the health of your entire body.
    • Reduce stress to help lower your blood pressure. Relaxation breathing, yoga, meditation, or simply talking to a counselor or trusted friend or colleague can help. In turn, this can help lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health.
    • Take a heart healthy supplement each day such as Presura by Vita Sciences. Presura contains natural ingredients such as hawthorn berry, niacin, and garlic extract that have been found to promote healthy blood pressure levels. However, it is important to always talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement to make sure it is safe to take with any other medications you may take.

    Sources:

    American Heart Association (November 2017) “The Facts About High Blood Pressure.”

    American Heart Association News (November 13, 2017) “Nearly half of U.S. adults could now be classified with high blood pressure, under new definitions.”

    Centers for Disease Control (March 17, 2017) “Fast Stats: Leading Causes of Death.”

    HealthDay (April 7, 2018) “Exercise for High Blood Pressure? Most Not Keen on Idea.”

    Mayo Clinic (May 30, 2015) “10 Ways to Control High Blood Pressure Without Medication.”

     


  • Could more fiber improve your diabetes?

    fruits, vegetables, fiber, healthEat your veggies, they say. Whether you are trying to lose weight, improve your blood pressure, or just simply trying to live well, you may be told to eat more fiber in your diet. Fiber is not only good for managing weight or keeping your heart healthy though. A recent study has found that more fiber in your diet may actually help improve the health of those with type 2 diabetes.

    What is fiber?

    Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in certain foods that is not digested in the body.  Therefore, when consumed, it provides many health benefits such as:

    • making you feel fuller longer
    • slowing down digestion so more nutrients can be absorbed from the foods you eat
    • bulking your stool, in turn helping improve digestive health
    • helping to lower cholesterol levels in the blood

    In addition, fiber intake can help control blood glucose levels. A healthy, balanced diet should include such fiber-rich foods as:

    • fruits and vegetables
    • high-fiber cereals made with bran or whole grains
    • whole grains such as oats, quinoa, or corn
    • high-fiber pastas such as bean, lentil-based, or whole wheat
    • brown or wild rice
    • nuts, nut butters, and seeds such as flax seed, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds

    A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people who consumed 50 grams of fiber each day were able to control their blood glucose levels much better than those who ate far less.  However, since most Americans only consume on average 15 to 18 grams of fiber each day, this task would be impossible. Therefore, most adults should consume between 20 and 35 grams of fiber each day for optimal health. If you consume between 2 cups of both fruits and vegetables each day, you can easily hit this daily goal.

    Fiber and diabetes

    Type 2 diabetes is the type of diabetes that develops when the pancreas makes too little insulin or the body cannot use insulin very well. In turn, people with type 2 diabetes have trouble controlling their blood glucose levels since insulin is a hormone in charge of using glucose for energy in the body.

    Within the digestive system, certain bacteria are in charge of breaking down carbohydrates  in the body. These broken down carbohydrates produce short chain fatty acids that help reduce inflammation in the gut and control appetite. Recent study findings show that a shortage of these amino acids may increase risk of type 2 diabetes.

    A recent study based in China looked at the effect of a high fiber diet on those with type 2 diabetes. One group of adults with type 2 diabetes were given standard dietary recommendations and patient education. The other group was given a high fiber diet. After 12 weeks, the group of patients on the high fiber diet had had greater reduction in their HgA1C, or three month average of blood glucose levels. In addition, their fasting blood glucose levels and weight dropped more than those not on the high fiber diet.

    Other ways to help control your diabetes

    In addition to consuming more fiber, there are several other ways you can help control your diabetes.

    • Know your numbers such as blood glucose levels, HgA1C, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol levels. Keeping track of these numbers will help you see where you stand in terms of heart health and controlling your diabetes. This way, if your numbers are reaching unhealthy levels, then you can take action before complications arise.
    • Stay active for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity most days of the week. Moderate activity includes walking, water aerobics, light dancing, and gardening, to name a few. A step counter or fitness tracking device can be helpful to keep track of your movements each day and keep you accountable.
    • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Also, when you are increasing your fiber intake, it is important to drink plenty of water to avoid constipation.  Water is an important nutrient to help flush waste out of the body and keep the body functioning effectively.
    • Meet with your healthcare provider on a regular basis to help control and treat your diabetes and keep track of any risk factors. In addition, your healthcare provider can provide support if you have any questions or concerns in regards to your overall health.
    • Take supplements as needed such as vitamins for any deficiencies you may have as well as supplements such as Glucarex by Vita Sciences. Glucarex contains ingredients such as alpha lipoic acid and cinnamon that have been shown to support healthy blood glucose levels.

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

    Sources:

    Joslin Diabetes Center (accessed on March 12, 2018) “How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Levels?” 

    National Center for Health Statistics (March 2017) “NCHS Nutrition Data.”

    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (January 2016) “4 Steps to Manage Your Diabetes for Life.”

    Rutgers University (March 8, 2018) “Fiber-fermenting bacteria improve health of type 2 diabetes patients.”


  • Could a walk in the park lower stress levels?

    walk, park, exercise, stress, relaxStaying active has many benefits. In particular, you may have been told by a healthcare provider to move more to help manage weight or improve heart health. However, a recent study has found that a walk in the park may also reduce stress levels in the body.

    How Much Exercise Do I Need?

    The Department of Helath and Human Services recommends that most adults exercise 30 minutes a day for most days of the week. In particular, it is suggested that most adults should engage in:

    • 150 minutes of moderate activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week, or a combination of both levels of activity.
    • 2 days each week of resistance or strength training that involves a single set of exercises that includes 12 to 15 repetitions at a weight that will tire the muscles by the end of the set.

    This thirty minutes does not have to be all at once. Five minutes here and ten minutes there is enough as long as it adds up to 30 minutes by the end of the day. Also, you may be wondering what moderate activity is. Moderate activity is any exercise that allows you to hold a conversation, but does not allow you enough breath to sing. In addition, you should break a light sweat within 10 minutes of a moderate activity, while vigorous activity will have you breaking a sweat in a few minutes or less. Moderate activities include:

    • walking
    • water aerobics
    • gardening
    • light dancing
    • slow bicycling

    Walking to Lower Stress

    A study by researchers at the Center for Nature and Health at the University of California San Francisco looked at the effects of exercise on a group of 78 parents and children.  This group of parents and children were encouraged to visit local parks as often as possible over the course of the study period. They were either provided maps to local parks and bus schedules or invited to group outings at local parks.

    Follow-ups were done at one month and three months after the start of the study. During these follow-ups, self reports, journalling, and salivary cortisol levels were used to measure stress levels.  It was found that every increase in park visits each week was linked to decreases in stress.  In addition, it was found that those who visited the parks often saw:

    • increased physical activity
    • decreased loneliness
    • increased interest in nature

    Other Ways to Lower Stress

    Besides getting fresh air and exercising, there are many ways you can try to lower your stress levels.

    • Deep breathing can help relax the mind during stressful times and can also help improve sleep. This type of breathing involves breathing from the diaphragm, which means your stomach should inflate as you inhale and deflate as you exhale. Inhale for several seconds, hold your breath for several seconds, and exhale for several seconds. You may feel a bit lightheaded when starting this practice, so do not perform deep breathing when driving a car or operating machinery.
    • Simplifying your life by donating items in your home that you do not use such as clothes, excess furniture, or decorative items. Also, delegate tasks when possible at both home and work if possible to lighten your load. Finally, write upcoming events on a calendar and keep a running shopping list so you can lighten the burden on your mind.
    • Getting enough sleep is important not only for lowering stress, but for overall health. The average adult should get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
    • Eating a balanced diet that is low in sugar, high in fiber, and high in other nutrients such as iron, B12, and vitamin C will help your body perform better in many ways. Some benefits of a healthy, balanced diet include improved cognitive function, better heart health, and an enhanced ability to handle stress. This balanced diet also includes lowering caffeine, increasing water intake, and reducing alcohol intake as well as eating a minimally processed diet. 
    • Spending more time with others in your family, circle of friends, and/or community since social engagement can help boost “feel good” serotonin levels in the body.
    • Taking mood-boosting supplements like Elevia by Vita Sciences. Elevia contains GABA, chamomile, and 5-HTP. These compounds can calm the mind and boost serotonin levels.

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

    Sources:

    Burton, M.D., N. (February 11, 2017) “How to Reduce Stress.” 

    Healthline (accessed March 5, 2018) “Parl Prescriptions Can Help Lower Stress Levels.”

    Laskowski, M.D., E.R. (August 20, 2016) “How much should the average adult exercise each day?” Mayo Clinic.com 

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

    National Sleep Foundation (accessed March 5, 2018) “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?”

    Razani, N., et al (2018) “Effect of park prescriptions with and without group visits to parks on stress reduction in low-income parents: SHINE randomized trial.”

    Watson, S. (June 18, 2014) “Caffiene and a healthy diet may boost memory, thinking skills; alcohol’s effect uncertain.”


  • Could an earlier diabetes diagnosis lower your heart disease risk?

    heart disease, heart health, heart, cardiovascularHeart disease is the number one cause of death for both mean and women in the United States. Therefore, it is no surprise that researchers are looking endlessly for ways to reduce risk of this condition. A recent study has found that for those with diabetes, the earlier diagnosis, the lower the heart disease risk later on in life.

    Heart disease risk factors

    Heart disease involves conditions such as coronary heart disease (CHD), which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Those with the following risk factors have a higher chance of developing heart disease:

    • high blood pressure
    • high cholesterol
    • smoking
    • overweight and obesity
    • being inactive
    • excessive alcohol intake
    • diabetes

    Diabetes and heart disease risk 

    A 2017 report from the New England Journal of Medicine states that around 208,000 people under the age of 20 years old has a diabetes diagnosis. Furthermore, a recent study in Diabetologia looked at the age of diabetes diagnosis and risk of chronic disease conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

    The study looked at data on over 700,000 people from Australia with a diabetes diagnosis between 1997 and 2011. The average age of diagnosis was 59 years old. However, researchers state that the earlier the diagnosis, the higher the risk of all-cause mortality. In particular, being a diagnosis 10 years earlier tha average showed a 20-30 percent increase in all-cause mortality, with a 60-percent higher risk of developing heart disease.

    Researchers suggest living with the disease longer increases complication risk. In turn, people with diabetes have a greater chance of diabetes-related health issues. Therefore, it is important to educate those with diabetes on healthy lifestyle practices. Teaching those with diabetes how to control their condition will help lower risk of complications. In addition, it is important to help prevent new cases of diabetes in younger adults.

    How to reduce your risk of heart disease 

    From this study it is clear that the following steps should be followed to reduce your risk of developing not just heart disease, but diabetes as well.

    • Eat a heart healthy diet full of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Also, be sure to limit your intake of fatty meats and stick to lean proteins. Examples of lean proteins include skinless chicken and turkey, lean beef, fish and other seafood, eggs, and low-fat dairy products. If you are vegetarian, some heart healthy plant-based proteins include nuts, nut butters, seeds, legumes, and soy-based products.
    • Quit smoking or don’t start since smoking constricts blood vessels and increases risk of high blood pressure.
    • Stay active at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. No boot camp exercise is required. However, just be sure to engage in moderate  exercise such as walking, swimming, light aerobics, gardening, dancing, or biking.
    • Manage your weight by engaging in healthy eating and exercising as well as getting plenty of sleep and staying hydrated with at least half of your body weight in ounces of water or unsweetened beverages each day.
    •  Visit your doctor and track your numbers on a regular basis. See your doctor at least once a year if you have no heart disease or diabetes diagnosis. However, if you have a family history of either condition or have a diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease, then you should visit more often. It is important to know your numbers such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood glucose levels. If you have diabetes or are at risk, then you will want to keep track of your A1C, which is a number that tells the 3-month average of your blood glucose level health. An A1C of less than 7-percent is healthy for those with diabetes, while an A1C between 5.7 and 6.4 indicates prediabetes, and an A1C below 5.7% is healthy.
    • Take a heart healthy supplement such as Alestra by Vita SciencesAlestra contains niacin and plant sterols which provide advanced cholesterol support. Please contact your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement and do not use this supplement as a replacement to your prescribed medications.

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

    Sources:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (November 28, 2017) “Heart Disease Facts.”

    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (February 2017) “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke.”

    Sandoiu, A. (February 26, 2018) “Earlier diabetes diagnosis linked to heart disease, stroke.”