Posts made in June, 2012

Have a heart: low carb, high protein diets

Posted by on Jun 29, 2012 in aging, diet, heart disease | 8 comments

This post will not be very popular amongst some people. And I apologize in advance for that. But I only share information that you may find useful; it’s up to you to decide how to use it.

Lately, there’s been a craze to consume diets high in protein and low in carbs in order to stave off weight and theoretically, certain diseases. But what if a diet out of balance is placing your heart at risk? That’s exactly what researchers are reporting in a large study of almost 44,000 Swedish women that was published this week in the open access British Medical Journal. You can find that study here. Mind you, the researchers caution that the findings don’t address whether or not there are benefits to eating such a diet in the short term. But this is what they do show:

  • After examining questionnaires collected over a 15+ year period in this group of relatively young women (ages 30 to 49), they observed 1,270 heart events, including heart disease, stroke, hemorrhage and peripheral disease of the arteries.
  • When they scored the diets based on protein or carb intake (with 1 being ‘very high’ and 10, ‘very low) or a mixed diet (with 2 associated with hi carb/lo protein and 20, every low carb and very high protein) they learned that a 1 point decline in intake of carbohydrates or 1 point increase in protein was associated with a 4% increase in heart events.
  • Each 2 point increase in low carb/high protein diets (which is equivalent to a 5 gram increase in daily protein intake and a 20 gram decline in daily carbohydrate intake, was linked to a significant 5% increase in heart events. Moreover, these risks did not differ substantially among women whose protein intake primarily derived from animal or plant origin.

The researchers state that “vegetables, fruits, cereals and legumes, which have been found in several studies to be core components of healthy dietary patterns, are important sources of carbohydrates so reduced intake of these food groups is likely to have adverse effects on cardiovascular health,” adding that “several studies have reported that meat consumption or hight intake of protein from animal sources may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

So, what’s the primary message here? Well, like any other study, nothing is definitive. And yet, we know that heart disease risk naturally increases as women age. Should you continue to ascribe to the low-carb/high-protein craze, you may want to pay extra attention to your heart health. You may look like a million bucks and your insulin levels may be fabulous but your heart may be struggling to keep up. Meanwhile? Concentrate on low fat animal proteins and try to stay with the 80-20 rule if you refuse to change your ways, i.e., 80% protein, 20% carbohydrates. Seriously? Have a heart.

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Wednesday Bubble: Flashes and sweats and your heart

Posted by on Jun 27, 2012 in heart disease, hot flash, nightsweats | 0 comments


Be still my heart? Not this week. At least not as far as hot flashes and night sweats go. In fact, study findings that will be presented this coming weekend at the  Endocrine Society ‘s 94th Annual Meeting suggest that hot flashes and night sweats that many women experience early in their menopause are not related to an increased risk for heart disease.

So what’s the 4-11?

Researchers have previously questioned whether or not timing of symptoms play a role in a woman’s increased risk for heart disease during menopause. They’ve found that experiencing symptoms only around the time menopause begins may actually reduce the risk for heart disease, or the risk of stroke, heart attack or death (compared with women who experience symptoms later). (If you’d like more about heart disease, aging and menopause, an archive of posts can be found here). To learn more, they have now analyzed the presence of markers in the body that have been linked to heart disease risk (e.g. high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin, and specific blood markers that might indicate inflammation), in almost 60,000 women who were in menopause and had participated in the Women’s Health Initiative Observation Study.

These women were separated into groups, depending on the presence and timing of vasomotor symptoms:

1) No symptoms

2) Symptoms at start of menopause but not at the start of the study

3) Symptoms both at the start of menopause and the start of the study

4) Symptoms at the start of the study but not at the start of menopause

Importantly, women who had symptoms early in their menopause but not late did not appear to have elevated markers that may indicate heart disease risk. In comparison to this group, women whose vasomotor symptoms occurred only late in menopause appeared to have increased risk, mainly due to higher blood pressure and higher white blood cell counts. Those whose symptoms started early and persisted appeared to have higher levels of glucose and insulin, which indicated an increase in the risk for diabetes.

The researchers, who harken from Northwestern University, note that it’s unclear why timing of symptoms may influence heart disease, although the lead investigator, Dr. Emily D. Szmuilowicz has speculated that symptoms that occur long after menopause begin may indicated some sort of blood vessel abnormality. And while she and her colleagues have not suggested a strategy to attenuate this risk, it is clear that due diligence is needed. If your symptoms persist well into your menopause, see your health practitioner and ask him or her to run some tests. More importantly, hindsight is 20-20; be sure to instill lasting heart healthy habits early and maintain them while you age.


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Chasing the blues: music and mood

Posted by on Jun 25, 2012 in aging, depression | 0 comments


It’s widely accepted that depression affects as many as 20% to 40% of women during menopause. However, what’s also true is that gender differences in depression evidently begin well before the menopause and women are 1.5 to 3 times likelier than men to report a lifetime history of depression. Moreover, these distinctions start as early as the teen years and continue until the mid 50s, a time that corresponds to female reproductivity. Still, hormones are only one factor and mood can also be affected by stress, family life, general health issues, a lack of exercise and genetics. Moreover, research has shown that how women perceive the effect of menopause and its symptoms on their physical health can significantly affect whether or not they develop depression at the start of the ‘pause.

One thing that is fascinating about depression is while drugs have long been considered first line therapy, other alternatives, such as physical activity, have been shown to alleviate depression to a certain extent or at the very least, boost the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals. Listening to music may also be beneficial.

There are several theories behind the use of music in healing. One is that the slower, homeostatic rhythm of music slows down any elevated body rhythms. Another is that music actually alters psychological responses so that health outcomes, like depressed mood, are improved.

However, is there any muscle behind the claims that music can heal? A study appearing last year in Complementary Therapies in Medicine suggests it can. When researchers scoured nine databases, they identified data from 9, scientifically sound studies that enrolled participants in a wide range of ages from 18 to 95 years. And while there was no rhyme or reason the the duration of each listening session (30 to 60 min) or frequency of listening (2 to 3 times a day to once a week), nor was there a consistency between type of music listened to, 11 studies showed the listening to music improved depression and some demonstrated significant improvements, with scores improving by as much as 47% after 4 months. In some trials, improvements were seen as early as two weeks. Moreover? These improvements were measured by several different validated scales and were not based solely on participant recall.

While the studies did not necessarily examine music type, one compared the difference between rock and classical and found positive results in mothers who had become withdrawn. Others showed that having a choice helps; here, the researchers point out that choice helps the body to adapt and adopt musical patterns because the “listener is more in-tune” with preferred music.” (Pun intended!)

Clearly, there are distinctions between the data drawn from these studies which makes it impossible to draw any firm conclusions. At the same time, there is enough evidence to support the role of music as therapy in mood disorders. For me, a dose of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And this is the type of prevention that’s just ‘music to my ears!’

If music be the cure of mood, play on.

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Spilling the beans on coffee and caffeine

Posted by on Jun 22, 2012 in Uncategorized, women's health | 1 comment

Coffee, alcohol, chocolate. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them, right? Well, if you are like me, you may be intrigued by evolving research into these three substances in terms of health. In fact, back in May, I wrote about published research examining the effects of coffee on longevity. You can find that piece here.

Meanwhile, back on the research front, I ran across an editorial in the online edition of Maturitas that provides a deeper dive into coffee and what we, as consumers, are actually drinking every time we purchase a cup in a coffee shop. And the data may astonish you because while the serving sizes of espresso are within similar ranges, the caffeine content varies as much as two to almost six-fold. And let’s face it; most of us drink coffee for the taste. And for the caffeine effects.

However, as the authors point out, when it comes to commercially purchased coffee, it’s almost impossible to determine how much caffeine one is actually ingesting. This makes it difficult to stay within guidelines outlined by the International Food Council that suggest that moderate intake of caffeine equates to roughly three 8 oz cups a day, or 300 mg per day. (FYI: on average, it takes 5 hours for most adults to metabolize and excrete about half the caffeine consumed — in scientific circles, this is called “half-life”). And while this may seem unimportant to most, too much caffeine not only promotes insomnia or feeling jittery, but in amounts over the moderate intake level, may be downright dangerous for pregnant women (whose fetus can’t metabolize the purine akaloid in coffee). On the flip side? Regular coffee intake can help control gycemic levels (so long as you don’t add sugar), reduce the risk of depression and reduce cognitive decline, especially in women.

So, what do you need to know before you buy that next cuppa?

  • Different coffee shops used differing amounts of coffee to prepare their coffee drinks.
  • Barista methods vary from shop to shop and factors like water temperature, steam, time brewed, etc, all play a role.
  • If you are a latte or cappuccino lover, your espresso is diluted but to what extent is a mystery.
  • Beans are harvested, roasted and ground differently from one cup to the next.

The authors say to have no fear but to insist on “good quality, 100% arrabica beans,” and to start paying attention to the process. I think that this advice is a bit far fetched because short of being one of ‘those’ customers, I don’t see how one can control or demand. Starbucks is Starbucks, right? BTW, while the analysis was conducted in Scotland, Starbucks espresson had the lowest level of caffeine per serving — only 51 mg, which begs the question, what are you paying for when you drop $5 on the double espresso?

So, “what’s in your cup?” It’s fairly intuitive that a few visits to the same coffee shop will yield a lot of non-scientific answers; if two espressos cause a whole lotta jitters, have one the next time. That aside, I suggest a home brew to take all questions off the table.


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Wednesday Bubble: Refresh your outlook. With Gynetone…

Posted by on Jun 20, 2012 in menopause | 0 comments

[Image: All trademark rights reserved]

Gynetone. Sounds like a band, right? But this band won’t be music to your ears.

Gynetone Repetabs, an early form of hormone replacement therapy evidently was formulated to refresh more than your outlook. And the tagline “without the “physiologic borders of either hormone” had a whole lotta subtext.

Interestingly, this nifty hormone replacement pill contained ethinylestradiol (the first orally, active semi-synthetic estrogen used) and methyltestosterone of all things. Methyltestosterone is an anabolic steroid used to treat testosterone deficiency in men. It also stimulates aggression.

Alter your attitude? Sure, we’ll just give you a dose of aggression and your ‘swan song’ outlook will turn you into the Amazing Hulk. Your new song? Momma gonna knock you out?!


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