Posts by Julie Corliss
We tend to think of heart attacks (and heart disease) as primarily happening to men. That might be because women tend to minimize any heart attack symptoms they experience — and to delay seeking treatment much longer than men. Recent studies on this “heart attack gender gap” have revealed several things that can help make sure every patient with heart disease gets the best treatment possible.
Although the two conditions seem unrelated, Alzheimer’s and heart disease actually share a genetic link. People who have a certain gene variant have both a somewhat elevated heart disease risk and a significantly elevated Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, a recent study has suggested that when people know they have this variant, they’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that benefit their heart — and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.
One of the most dreaded side effects of cholesterol-lowering statins is myopathy, or severe muscle pains. A new test on the market can evaluate whether you’re genetically susceptible to myopathy. But true statin-induced myopathy is uncommon, and most muscle pain a person experiences while taking a statin likely isn’t caused by the statin. So, is this test really worth the (significant) price?
Regular exercise offers a wealth of benefits for your body — and recent studies have confirmed that people who are physically fit have fitter brains, too. In fact, an active person’s brain can effectively be up to seven years “younger” than the brain of someone who doesn’t exercise! Fortunately, shaping up your brain is as easy as shaping up the rest of your body — a little activity goes a long way.
Fatty fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But do is farm-raised salmon have a better or worse omega-3 level than wild-caught? While a recent study found that the omega-3 content of farm-raised salmon varies widely, the type of fish you choose probably isn’t as important as following the American Heart Association’s advice to eat two servings of fish a week, letting affordability and availability guide your choices.
The Nordic diet features foods that are locally sourced or traditionally eaten in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. While the Nordic diet isn’t proven to prevent heart disease to the same extent as the Mediterranean diet, it’s healthier the average American diet. As an added bonus, it’s environmentally friendly — plant-based diets such as the Nordic diet use fewer natural resources (such as water and fossil fuels) and create less pollution.
The age at which women should start having screening mammograms, and how often, has been controversial for some time. Reputable national organizations have differed in their recommendations. Accumulating data suggest that for women under 45, screening mammograms may bring more harm than good. As a result, the American Cancer Society has radically shifted its screening guidelines for women in their early 40s at an average risk for breast cancer.
Tai chi has become popular in the United States in recent years, thanks in part to growing evidence for its many health benefits. This ancient Chinese exercise not only improves balance and flexibility, it may prevent falls, ease pain, and even help your heart. A recent analysis of 33 studies of tai chi suggests that doing tai chi can help older adults with common, long-term health conditions move about more easily and enhance their quality of life. The quality of life improvements may stem from the meditative, mind-calming aspects of tai chi.
Websites that rate doctors and their practices can offer valuable information, but it’s often incomplete. Narrative reviews, in which patients describe in their own words their experiences with clinicians, are usually the most helpful — but could be even more so if they were collected in a standardized format. What’s more, only 40% of doctor-rating sites list information on how well a provider performs in terms of offering timely appointments and following guidelines for preventive screening tests. If you’re looking for a new clinician, it may be most helpful to ask trusted friends and family members for recommendations.
The latest guidelines used to determine who should take a cholesterol-lowering statin to prevent heart disease appear to be more accurate and cost-efficient than the previous guidelines. That’s according to two studies led by Harvard researchers, both published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association. The new guidelines, published in 2013 by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, recommend a statin for men and women between the ages of 40 and 75 who have a 7.5% or higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years. The JAMA studies show that the new guidelines provide a more accurate assessment of who would benefit from a statin and who wouldn’t, and are more cost-effective than the older guidelines. Statins aren’t a cure-all. Eating a healthier diet, exercising often, and not smoking will go a long way to preventing heart attack and stroke.