Health News to Take to Heart

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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.

NEXT: When The Body Sends A Warning, Pay Attention

The Beat Goes On:  When the body sends a warning, pay attention. One extremely fit man ignored the signs and almost paid with his life

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.


Related Post: Exercise and Longevity

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.

He thought a virus caused it, not his heart stopping briefly, and never checked with his doctor, which he now regrets. “You have to look out for yourself,” Melman advises. “If you feel something markedly different, don’t be proud. Don’t be a fool.”

He would have this near-death experience at least three more times; the last major incident occurred in June 2012, as he exercised in his home gym. Again, he’d missed a sign that something wasn’t right. For no apparent reason, the lean and fit Melman weighed 12 pounds more than usual. “My heart was not beating enough to get rid of the fluids in my body,” he explains. Blacking out, he injured ribs on gym equipment as he fell. In the emergency room and later in the intensive care unit at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, his heart would stop for eight to 12 seconds. Astonishingly, he remained conscious, even taking iPhone photos of the monitor as his heart flatlined.

His heartbeat was so unstable that doctors installed a temporary pacemaker that evening, replacing it the next day with one that’s regulating his heart to this day. Within days, he was back in the gym, exercising carefully so as not to dislodge the electrodes.

His doctors don’t think his exercise routine induced the problem, he says. And Melman believes it saved him. “I feel fantastic. I’m still on baby Aspirin – it’s amazing I didn’t have a stroke all the times my heart stopped.”

And the experience of nearly dying? “I have no fear of death now. I have a tremendous appreciation for life – I always have – but I’ve experienced how close life and death are. My life is normal – all I have is this little device. I wear it as a badge of survival.

NEXT: What’s In Your Intestines Can Help Your Heart


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.

Related Post: Prevent Heart Disease

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.

Freeze-dried, this probiotic stays viable for two years. Its capsule protects it from stomach acids so it reaches the gut unscathed, ready for action.

Don’t expect the germs to do all the work, though. Exercise, a wholesome diet and not smoking are vital lifestyle keys to heart health. Some TLC for those microscopic residents of your guts is a good policy, too.

A quality probiotic aids the balance of bacteria and may prevent diarrhea associated with taking an antibiotic. Cardioviva, shown below, may actually contribute to digestive health. Take care of the good residents of your GI tract’s ecosystem, they are part of your personal health-care team. Available at drugstores across Canada.



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.

Related Post: Women and Heart Attacks

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.

The heart rhythm device comes locked – only a pulsing heart icon and heart rate count are seen. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration required this condition to ensure a physician has interpreted a recording; the monitor has also been approved by Health Canada. Once the first user sends a heart rhythm recording (via free secure proprietary software) to the company’s ECG co-ordinating centre and receives a report, the device can be unlocked, ECG waveforms viewed and recordings sent to a doctor of the user’s choice. This first reading by the company’s ECG centre is free; later ones, available 24-7, are $12.50 each. Up to five people can use the monitor; Grima recommends having each one’s ECG read as well.

With only two leads, it shouldn’t replace the gold-standard 12-lead ECG. (A lead is a tracing of electrical activity occurring in a particular aspect of the heart.) But it does allow those diagnosed with arrhythmias to monitor their heart rhythm, even on vacation (and decide with their doctor if they need to come home for treatment) or to aid diagnosis by recording an arrhythmia that may not show up during a scheduled ECG.

The device sells for $259, shipping included.