Harvard Health Letters
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5:30 AM EDT, May 15, 2013
BERRIES MIGHT LOWER HEART RISKS
A recent study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association offers more evidence to bolster berries' health benefits. The study included 93,000 women (ages 25-42) who were enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II. The women filled out dietary questionnaires every four years for 18 years. During that time, 405 of the women had a heart attack.
After accounting for other factors that can contribute to heart risks, such as body mass index, smoking, and exercise, the researchers found that women who ate the most berries (three or more times per week) were 32 percent less likely to have a heart attack than those who ate berries once a month or less.
The authors said pigments called anthocyanins in berries may reduce heart risks by widening arteries and preventing plaque from building up inside them. Because this study asked women about their dietary habits, rather than assigning them to eat varying amounts of berries, it could not determine exactly how much women would need to eat to see reductions in heart attacks and other measures of heart disease. Still, it does illustrate how a simple dietary change can contribute to real health improvements. - Harvard Women's Health Watch
ARE PAINKILLERS ALSO KILLING YOUR HEARING?
When you think of risk factors for hearing loss, over-the-counter painkillers probably aren't among them. But a Harvard study published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that frequent use of ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be an important contributor.
In the study, women who took the pain relievers at least twice a week were at a greater risk for hearing loss, and more frequent usage increased the risk by up to 24 percent. The findings are similar to a study of men and hearing loss, although aspirin was also found to contribute to risk in that study.
Researchers speculate that the pain relievers may be damaging the cochlea, the snail-shaped hearing mechanism in your inner ear.
"Ibuprofen can reduce blood flow to the cochlea, which could result in cellular damage and cell death. Acetaminophen may deplete the antioxidant glutathione, which protects the cochlea from damage," says study author Dr. Sharon Curhan, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Does this mean you should think twice before popping a pill for headache or back pain?
"These drugs clearly have benefits with short-term use," says Dr. Curhan. "However, frequent use of these medications and use over long periods of time may increase the risk of hearing loss and may cause other adverse health effects. Therefore, it is important to take these medications mindfully and to limit their use as much as possible."
Talk to your doctor before making any changes in your medication use. - Harvard Health Letter.
AN EGG A DAY MAY BE A-OK
Protein-rich and high in vitamin D, the egg was once revered as an ideal food. Concerns over its high cholesterol content--210 milligrams (mg) in a large egg, almost all of it in the yolk--prompted some to question whether the risks of eating eggs might be greater than the benefit. The truth may lie somewhere in between.
A new analysis of studies done on egg consumption and risk of heart attack or stroke came to the conclusion that eggs do not increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. In most of the studies included in the analysis (published Jan. 16, 2013, in BMJ), participants ate up to 10 eggs per week; some ate 15 to 20. Yet no adverse effects were seen.
The researchers concluded that it's safe to eat one egg a day. People with diabetes were an exception: their risk of heart disease rose along with the number of eggs eaten. In all people, though, eggs appeared to lower the risk of bleeding into the brain.
The American Heart Association recommends people consume no more than 300 mg of cholesterol a day. Considering the nutritional value and low cost of eggs, some experts suggest taking a wider look at food choices and trying to eat a diet low in cholesterol, rather than eliminating eggs.--Harvard Heart Letter
IT'S NEVER TO LATE TO QUIT SMOKING
If you've been smoking so long that you think it's too late to quit, think again. A study in the Jan. 24, 2013, New England Journal of Medicine illustrated that quitting at any age has big benefits--and continuing to smoke carries huge risks. The study reviewed causes of death and smoking status in 202,248 adults ages 25 and older.
Those who quit smoking added four to 10 years to their life, depending on their age at the time they quit. Those who continued to smoke, however, had three times the risk of dying than those who had never smoked and could expect to lose a decade of life.
A second article in the same issue confirmed that women who smoke have the same odds of dying from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and emphysema as men who smoke. Although cutting back on the number of cigarettes smoked didn't make a difference, quitting smoking at any age dramatically lowered the risk of dying from smoking-related disease. The risk can be eliminated by quitting before age 40. - Harvard Heart Letter
REGULAR EXERCISE EXTENDS LIFE
Obtaining the generally recommended amount of regular physical activity--150 minutes a week of moderate exercise--extends life span by up to several years for some people, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine .
Researchers mined several large national databases of health information. They sorted people into three categories: inactive, somewhat active, and active. Then they calculated how long people lived by sex and racial or ethnic groups.
Men who were active at age 20 could expect to gain up to 2.4 years over a lifetime. This modest longevity boost was observed in non-Hispanic white men and in black men, but not in Hispanic men.
Although the study focuses on lifespan, it reflects the impact of even moderate exercise on rates of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, which account for the most deaths. - Harvard Men's Health Watch
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