Heart Health

Why you should keep tabs on your drinking

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

During the holiday season it’s not difficult to overindulge and too much alcohol. There’s a well-established connection between binge drinking and atrial fibrillation or afib, an irregular heart rhythm that can increase the risk of a stroke. It’s known as holiday heart syndrome. A recent study suggests that even more moderate alcohol consumption may increase the risk.

Anti-inflammatory medications and the risk for cardiovascular disease: A new study, a new perspective

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The results of a large study of the anti-inflammatory medication celecoxib in people with arthritis and increased risk for cardiovascular disease are changing previously held beliefs regarding the drug raising the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease and brain health: Looking at the links

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

To keep your brain in tip top shape as you age, work to lower your risk for heart disease. Steps that can help protect both your heart and cognitive abilities include getting regular physical activity, quitting smoking, managing blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Low levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) appear connected to many health risks, not just heart disease

Deepak Bhatt, MD, MPH

Low LDL cholesterol and high HDL cholesterol lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. That is what the studies have always shown us. But a new study suggests that low HDL itself may not be the risk factor for heart disease we thought it was. It could merely be a sign of an unhealthy lifestyle, or other health risk factors, that also contribute to heart disease. Trying to find medications to raise HDL cholesterol may not be as effective as encouraging people to adopt healthier habits.

Many ways to lower cholesterol will reduce heart disease risk

Deepak Bhatt, MD, MPH

Research shows that lowering cholesterol using a variety of approaches–including medications and diet–can lower the chances of having a cardiovascular event, including a heart attack. For people at high risk for a heart attack, cholesterol-lowering statins are usually the first-line treatment. For people who can’t take statins, other drugs may help.

Health benefits of hiking: Raise your heart rate and your mood

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Hiking is good for you both physically and mentally. It provides a great cardiovascular workout, improves balance, and is a natural stress reliever. Hikes can range from gentle strolls to uphill terrain, so there’s always a way to challenge yourself. Look for trails near you by checking out local, state, and national parks.

Heart disease, sleep apnea, and the Darth Vader mask too?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

A study questions whether CPAP helps to slow the progression of coronary artery disease in those who already have it, but use of the device has still been shown to have quality of life and other health benefits in those with sleep apnea.

Gut reaction: How bacteria in your belly may affect your heart

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Research suggests that the bacteria in your gut may also impact your heart health. Collectively known as the gut microbiota, these microbes assist with digestion, but also make certain vitamins, break down toxins, and train your immune system. These microbes also play a role in obesity and the development of diabetes, both of which can increase your risk of developing heart disease.

For the good of your heart: Keep holding the salt

Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD
Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD, Contributor

A recently published study claimed that people who ate a low sodium diet were more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and death. However, there were problems with this study – including difficulty with accurately measuring each study volunteer’s daily intake of sodium. Low sodium diets may be harmful for small subsets of people, but for the majority of people restricting salt intake is still important for cardiovascular health.

The whole grain goodness of modern and ancient grains

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Whole grains are important for a healthy, nutritious diet. Eating whole grain foods improve your cholesterol, and decrease your risk of drying from cardiovascular disease and cancer. There are different types of whole grains; modern grains are the grains we eat today like wheat, corn and rice, and ancient grains, which include grains like black rice, quinoa, and emmer. These foods are grown just as they were a thousand years ago. Although they offer different benefits, eating a variety of ancient and modern grains are important for a nutritious diet.