Grape expectations: Is red wine good for your heart?

Despite popular belief, there is no good evidence that red wine in particular (or alcohol in general) is beneficial for the heart. The arguments for red wine’s alleged benefits include the “French paradox” and the discovery of beneficial compounds called polyphenols in grape skins. But observational studies comparing red wine to other types of alcohol have had mixed results. Moderate drinking (one drink daily for healthy women, two for men) is widely considered safe, but heavy drinking is closely linked to a higher risk of accidents, cancer, heart disease, and liver problems. (Locked) More »

Concerns about swollen legs

One common cause of swollen legs is venous insufficiency, which results from faulty valves in the deep veins of the legs. Less common but more serious causes include heart failure and (when in only one leg) deep-vein thrombosis. (Locked) More »

The new blood pressure guidelines: Messages you may have missed

The recently updated blood pressure guidelines lowered the threshold for diagnosing the condition, down to 130/80 mg Hg from 140/90 mm Hg. Nearly half of all Americans now have high blood pressure. People with elevated blood pressure (readings that fall between 120/80 and 130/80 mm Hg) should focus on diet and exercise changes to help lower their values. Those with a reading of 130/80 and higher may also need medications if they have a high risk of heart disease. (Locked) More »

Tai chi: A kinder, gentler approach to cardiac rehab?

Tai chi is a gentle exercise that involves a series of flowing movements and breath awareness. It may be a good alternative for people who decline to participate in cardiac rehabilitation, particularly if they think the exercise aspect of rehab will be too tiring or difficult. Tai chi is less physically demanding than many other forms of exercise and may also help lower stress. Regular practice may also modestly lower blood pressure and benefit people with heart failure, who tend to be tired and weak as a result of the heart’s diminished pumping ability. More »

Opening up arteries to treat stable angina: Just a sham?

Chest pain occurring with physical activity or emotional stress that quickly goes away with rest is known as stable angina. Treatments include medications (including drugs such as beta blockers and nitrates) or an artery-opening procedure known as angioplasty with a stent. Although a study suggested that a stent was no better than a sham procedure for stable angina, experts say the trial was too short and too small to conclude that stents don’t work for stable angina. (Locked) More »

Deterring heart disease if you have diabetes

Three newer medications for type 2 diabetes, empagliflozin (Jardiance), canagliflozin (Invokana) and liraglutide (Victoza), appear to lower the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease in addition to lowering blood sugar. Empagliflozin and canagliflozin, which improve diabetes by helping the body release more sugar into the urine, seem to be especially helpful for decreasing heart failure cases. Liraglutide lowers blood sugar by preventing the liver from making too much sugar and helping the pancreas produce more insulin. It reduced serious heart events by 13% and deaths from heart disease by 22%. People with type 2 diabetes and heart disease who are having trouble reaching their HbA1c targets may want to discuss these new medications with their doctors. (Locked) More »

Vegetable of the month: Beets

 Image: EvergreenPlanet; © Anna Kucherova/Thinkstock Despite their striking colors — ruby red, golden yellow, and even candy-striped — beets aren't exactly the most popular vegetable on the block. But what if you make them sound more enticing? It turns out that people may eat more "dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets" than plain old "beets." In a study done at a Stanford University cafeteria, researchers found that people ate about 25% more vegetables if the selections were described in indulgent terms rather than basic or healthy terms (such as "lighter-choice beets with no added sugar") even though all the dishes were prepared exactly the same way. Other examples of indulgently named veggie dishes included "zesty ginger-turmeric sweet potatoes" and "sweet sizzlin' green beans and crispy shallots." So if you're hoping to entice friends or family to try beets (or other vegetables), add some appealing adjectives to the description. (Locked) More »

To eat less salt, enjoy the spice of life

People who like spicy foods appear to eat less salt and have lower blood pressure than people who prefer less-spicy foods. Adding even small amounts of spice to food may help people eat less salt, which may benefit their health. More »

Dog owners: Less heart disease and longer life?

People (especially those who live alone) who own dogs may be less likely to die from heart disease than those without dogs. Dogs may ease stress and inspire people to be more active and socially connected—all things that seem to foster heart health. More »