Dietary supplements: Dubious value, hidden dangers

Americans spend nearly $37 billion annually on dietary supplements. But they are not subject to the same regulations governing the quality and safety of prescription drugs, and most lack evidence of health benefits Many large clinical trials demonstrate that fish oil supplements do not prevent heart disease in healthy people. But these products can still include “may support heart health” claims on their labels. Other types of supplements include widely variable amounts of active ingredients, while others may contain a potentially harmful heart stimulant. More »

High calcium score: What’s next?

 Image: © Tinpixels/Getty Images Q. I recently got a coronary artery calcium scan and the results showed that I have quite a bit of calcium in my heart arteries (my score was 900). Should I have an angiogram to confirm the results? I don't have any heart-related symptoms, but I'm worried about having a heart attack. A. That is a very high coronary artery calcium score. But the short answer to your question is no. The main reason to have an angiogram is to locate a narrowed heart artery that is causing chest pain or other symptoms. For the test, a cardiologist injects a dye that is visible on x-rays into the blood vessels of your heart, then takes a series of x-ray images. This is done in preparation for angioplasty, in which a narrowed artery is opened, or as a prelude to referral for coronary artery bypass surgery. (Locked) More »

Confused about carbs?

Low-carb diets, which swap carbohydrates for protein or fat, have been popular off and on for decades. The long-term cardiovascular effects remain unclear, but the source and amount of proteins and fats (in addition to carbs) also play a role. Diets that include more animal-based protein and fats (such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and cheese) instead of carbohydrates have been linked to a greater risk of early death. In contrast, diets that include more plant-based proteins and fats (from vegetables, legumes, and nuts) have been linked to a lower risk. (Locked) More »

The head-heart connection: Mental health and heart disease

People with high levels of psychological distress, including symptoms of anxiety and depression, may be more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke. Mood disorders and heart disease may have shared, underlying causes that begin even before birth that are carried throughout life. A fetus exposed to its mother’s immune or inflammatory responses may experience changes that affect specific brain regions that regulate both mood and cardiac function. (Locked) More »

Take the plunge: Try a water workout

Swimming and water aerobics can be a good way to stay fit, especially for people who have arthritis, are overweight, or are recovering from an injury. Swimming differs from land-based exercises because during swimming, a person’s body is horizontal rather than vertical and is mostly immersed in water. Both factors mean blood pools less in the legs. The heart refills with blood a little faster, which means it may work a little harder during swimming than during other forms of exercise. Yet swimming is considered safe for people with stable heart disease and is sometimes used in cardiac rehabilitation. (Locked) More »

What is “broken-heart syndrome?”

Stress cardiomyopathy—also known as “broken-heart syndrome”—is a reversible heart condition that often mimics a heart attack. First described more than 25 years ago, it is now recognized more often than in the past. It usually results from severe physical or emotional stress, such as a severe medical illness, the death of a family member, or a natural disaster. During an episode, the heart takes on an unusual shape, in which the tip of the left ventricle balloons outward and the base contracts. The heart’s workload increases, leading to symptoms such as chest pain and breathlessness. But the condition usually resolves within a month. (Locked) More »

Vegetable of the month: Broccoli

A versatile vegetable, broccoli keeps well and can be cooked many different ways, in soups, stir-fries, pastas, and casseroles. It’s high in several vitamins and is a good source of potassium and fiber. More »