Health News to Take to Heart
Live to 82 – the World Health Organization’s current life expectancy for Canadians – and your heart will beat, on average, more than three billion times. Jayne MacAulay puts her finger on the science pulse and gets the news you can use to help you fortify this most amazing of muscles
The death rate from cardiovascular disease, which affects blood vessels throughout the body as well as the heart and brain, has dropped in this country – down almost 40 per cent in the last decade, the Heart and Stroke Foundation reports. No one has waved a magic wand.
Developments in surgical procedures and drugs have helped, but at least as important is a change in attitude that appears to be led by men and women of, well, Zoomer age. While their parents probably saw strenuous activity as appropriate for the young, today’s grey-hairs inspire the next generation – walking, running, cycling, playing hockey and working out at a gym. In addition to daily exercise, researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore confirmed that a healthful diet, staying at a just-right weight and not smoking, keep heart disease at bay and reduce risk of death – and all are strategies that need no prescription. (Smoke, however, and you negate the benefits of the other three steps.)
As curious and careful scientists continue to delve into what makes us tick, here’s some health news to take to heart.
The three-hours-per-morning fitness routine he loves and which we reported on in October 2011 has kept Tony Melman, 66, robustly healthy for years.
His MedicAlert bracelet warns of bradycardia – a resting heart rate of under 60 beats per minute – and atrial fibrillation (AF), a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart (atria) contract irregularly and often faster than normal. He’s taken a baby Aspirin, his only medication, daily for 20 years for the AF and says doctors ascribed his low heart rate to his exercise regimen. His strong heart pumped slowly, seemingly efficiently.
When a friend, a cardiologist, asked if he ever fainted, Melman admitted he felt dizzy occasionally, when he stood up. It didn’t alarm him; he just pushed his hands together hard, and it disappeared. He didn’t suspect his heart’s electrical system was malfunctioning.
An early morning run during a business trip some years ago ended badly when the world suddenly began whirling and darkening. Strangely, he felt as if a warm, comforting blanket was over his shoulders. “It’s like you’re in a plane. It’s black out there, and you’re ready to jump. It’s so enticing, and you feel so comforted and relaxed. Then the buzzing started, got faster and faster and suddenly [everything] cleared,” he says.
NO GUT, NO GLORY
What’s in your intestines can help your heart
Think of yourself as a city. Your own cells make up only 10 per cent of the metropolis. The other 90 per cent? About 100 trillion microbes, otherwise known as bacteria or germs. Yuck. But we’re lucky to have them. Usually they keep pathogens, the bad germs, from making us ill – or worse. Now, vigorous new research tells us their influence can manifest in unexpected ways, regulating such things as a tendency to be fat or thin, adventurous or scaredy-cats, allergy-prone or asthmatic. And they even help your heart.
Take Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242. After 10 years of testing, the bacterium with the long name has received a patent as a probiotic supplement that reduces LDL cholesterol, the “bad” form of cholesterol that tends to stick in artery walls and sets the stage for heart disease. Available as a Cardioviva capsule taken twice daily with food, it lowers total and LDL cholesterol by 11.6 per cent in adults with high cholesterol levels.
Dr. Mitchell Jones, the dogged scientist behind Cardioviva, explains that the probiotic lowers the body’s cholesterol production as well as its absorption of dietary cholesterol.
Your heart may be just fine. Here’s how to keep track
Etienne Grima, CEO of CardioComm Solutions, Inc., describes his company’s new heart rate monitor as “disruptive” technology since the HeartCheck PEN Handheld ECG, shown above, lets consumers do an electrocardiogram (ECG) wherever they choose, without waiting for the usual appointment at a hospital or clinic. Using the company’s free GEMS Home software, they can download a 30-second heart reading to a PC and send it to their doctor or the company’s centralized server-based monitoring centre, where a physician skilled at reading ECGs interprets the patient’s recording. (A result comes back within 30 minutes.)
The Heart and Stroke Foundation estimates 350,000 Canadians have atrial fibrillation (AF). Some notice nothing untoward, but others experience dizziness or irregular heartbeats. People with AF have three to five times the risk of stroke than their friends, so diagnosis and treatment are crucial. In 2012, a Canadian study concluded routine ECGs help doctors diagnose AF – and forecast adverse outcomes.
Arrhythmias also include bradycardia, where the heart beats too slowly, and tachycardia, where it’s too fast. Irregular heartbeats may develop as a result of high blood pressure or diabetes, both conditions that require monitoring. (To maintain health, you need to know what’s happening to your body.) Grima suggests people in their 40s use the handheld device to develop a baseline for comparison once age-related changes begin appearing on ECGs. He notes it’s often then people begin to feel less fit and healthy anyway and should begin using the PEN monitor. “This is a health-preservation tool,” he points out. Use it every three months – once a month if diabetes, hypertension, age (65 or older) and certain drugs put you at high risk. People under stress, active in sports or with a family history of cardiac disease should use it as needed, he says. It’s not for self-diagnosing heart attacks.