Harvard Health Letters
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5:30 AM EST, December 26, 2012
GOT YOGURT? THEN YOU MIGHT NOT GET HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
People who take in at least 2 percent of their calories from yogurt have lower blood pressure and are about 30 percent less likely to develop hypertension than people who don't eat yogurt, scientists reported at the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research meeting in Washington, D.C.
The yogurt finding is from a study in which researchers followed nearly 2,200 adults for 15 years and assessed their diets periodically with a questionnaire.
Eating at least one 6-ounce serving of yogurt every three days would provide the 2 percent "dose" cited in the study. Yogurt by itself does not lower blood pressure or prevent hypertension. But a diet that includes nutrient-rich foods like low-fat yogurt instead of less healthy foods does combat high blood pressure.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan calls for two to three servings of low-fat dairy per day. - Harvard Men's Health Watch
GREEN TEA MAY LOWER HEART DISEASE RISK
Lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease may be as easy as drinking green tea. Studies suggest this light, aromatic tea may lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which may be responsible for the tea's association with reduced risk of death from heart disease and stroke.
A number of studies have looked at possible links between green tea and cardiovascular disease.
A study of 40,530 Japanese adults found that participants who drank more than five cups of green tea a day had a 26 percent lower risk of death from heart attack or stroke and a 16 percent lower risk of death from all causes than people who drank less than one cup of green tea a day.
Last year, a meta-analysis of observational studies--13 conducted in green tea drinkers and five in black tea drinkers--found that people who drank the most green tea had a 28 percent lower risk of coronary artery disease than those who drank the least green tea. Black tea had no effect on heart risk.
Another 2011 meta-analysis of 14 randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials found that green tea significantly lowered LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Many of the studies had been conducted with capsules containing catechins, the active polyphenols in green tea, rather than with the beverage itself.
"The limited data available on green tea support a potential association between green tea and beneficial properties in relationship to risk factors for cardiovascular disease," says Kathy McManus, director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass.
Although no serious side effects were reported in the studies, catechins have been reported to raise liver enzymes in animals. Green tea is also a major source of oxalate, which can cause kidney stones. This suggests that drinking more than five cups of green tea a day (or taking the equivalent in catechin capsules) might have more risks than benefits. When consumed wisely, though, green tea may improve your cardiovascular health.
"The bottom line is that no serious red flags were seen in the amount of tea they were testing. It appears that a few cups a day may be beneficial," says McManus. - Harvard Heart Letter
DO-IT-YOURSELF SKIN CANCER CHECKS
Skin cancer may be your last health worry under winter's gray skies. But skin cancer checks need to be a year-round maintenance effort.
"About 50 percent of melanomas are identified by patients, and even more are discovered if the skin is examined with the help of a partner," says Dr. Kenneth Arndt, a Harvard Medical School professor.
Knowing what to look for can give you the confidence that you're being proactive about your skin health. A recent study published in Archives of Dermatology found that older adults who received a hands-on tutorial from a dermatologist and a computer-based tutorial in how to check for skin cancers were much more confident in their ability to identify early cancer signs on their skin and have them evaluated promptly.
But Dr. Arndt says you don't need a special program. Just ask your partner to help you and take 10 minutes a month to look for skin lesions that you haven't noted before, or those that have changed in color, size or shape, and feel.
"Pay particular attention to spots that have grown and may display a variety of hues, such as tan, black, brown, pearly, or translucent; moles or pigmented spots that have changed in color, mass, or contour; or sores that continually crust, bleed, and itch," says Dr. Arndt.
For full instructions on skin exams and examples of what skin cancers look like, visit the websites of groups such as the Skin Cancer Foundation or the Melanoma Educational Foundation.
"Catch skin cancers early, and most can be cured," says Dr. Arndt.
The best way to check your skin: ABCD
Asymmetry: Melanoma is asymmetrical.
Border irregularity: Melanoma borders are shabby and uneven.
Color. Melanomas are usually very dark.
Diameter: Most melanomas are larger than 5 millimeters. - Harvard Health Letter
MEDITATION EASES LONELINESS
When children leave the nest or a partner passes away, the person who remains behind can struggle with feelings of loneliness. Being lonely isn't just hard on your emotions; research finds it can also increase your risk for several medical conditions, including heart disease. A study published online in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity finds that meditation could be one effective method for combating loneliness.
Forty older adults (ages 55-85) were randomly assigned to either an 8-week meditation program or a wait-list control group. Researchers also collected blood samples to measure levels of genes related to inflammation. Not only did the meditation program significantly decrease loneliness, but it also reduced markers of inflammation, which indicates a benefit to the immune system (although the study did not investigate whether meditation reduced disease).
This study was small and preliminary, but it does add to a growing body of research about the benefits of meditation and other relaxation techniques on mood. - Harvard Women's Health Watch
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