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Statins, Cholesterol, and Heart Health (Video)

Statins are used for doing one thing in the body: to lower LDL cholesterol. However, as Dr. Weil discusses, many doctors prescribe statins but do not go beyond medication as a form of treatment and fail to discuss the benefits of healthy eating, exercise, stress-reduction and other healthful routes. Watch as Dr. Weil talks about how statins affect cholesterol and heart health, as well as where he believes statins will be in the future in our society.

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Vitamin D and Women's Cholesterol

Here’s more good news about vitamin D: it seems to help lower LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol, in post-menopausal women. The reduction isn’t huge, but it is significant, according to study leader Peter F. Schnatz, a professor of internal medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. The 576 women who participated in the study were randomly assigned to receive either a supplement containing 400 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily or a placebo. After three years, the women taking the supplement had higher blood levels of vitamin D and lower LDL than they had at the study’s start. In analyzing the results, the researchers controlled for the women’s vitamin D level when the study began, as well as smoking, alcohol consumption and more than 20 other variables. Because of the study’s small size, the researchers said no conclusions could be drawn about the effect of vitamin D on heart health, but they noted that among the women who took the calcium/vitamin D supplement, those whose vitamin D levels were higher also had high levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol, as well as lower triglyceride levels.

Peter F. Schnatz et al, “Calcium/vitamin D supplementation, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations, and cholesterol profiles in the Women’s Health Initiative calcium/vitamin D randomized trial.” Menopause, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000188


The Real Meaning of Senior Moments

If you’re worried that those occasional memory lapses that are popularly called “senior moments” could be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, a new clinical trial from Germany might set your mind at rest. Most of those memory lapses are not cause for concern, the study found. Researchers spent three years following more than 350 men and women age 75 and older, all of whom had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment but not dementia. The upshot of their study was the finding that in 42 percent of all cases, the study participants’ normal mental function returned; 21 percent of the participants fluctuated between mild cognitive impairment and normal mental function, while the mild cognitive impairment did not worsen in 15 percent. The final 22 percent went on to develop dementia. The investigators reported that the individuals most likely to develop this diagnosis also had signs of depression, their initial cognitive impairment was more severe than others in the group, and they were older than others in the study. The findings were published in the March/April 2014 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

My take? This news should reassure most people experiencing senior moments. Keep in mind that stress and anxiety can lead to these memory lapses, as can lack of sleep (you need at least six hours a night for memory to perform optimally). To counter stress and anxiety, try breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation training, or yoga. If neither of those two potential causes is a problem, it would be worth your while to have your thyroid function tested (problems can arise at any age and treatment can improve memory). Also consider whether any drugs you’re taking could be responsible – the usual suspects here are sleeping pills, anti-anxiety drugs, painkillers, antihistamines and antidepressants. Recreational drugs and alcohol can also contribute to memory lapses.

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Are You Deficient In Magnesium?

Magnesium - the fourth most abundant mineral in the body – is in your bones, teeth, and red blood cells. It is essential for proper functioning of the nervous, muscular and cardiovascular systems, it helps maintain bones, promotes normal blood pressure and is involved in energy metabolism.

How do you know if you aren’t getting enough? Signs of magnesium deficiency include:

  • Irritability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat

I recommend adult males get 270-400 mg per day; adult females get 280-300 mg; pregnant females get 320 mg daily; and breastfeeding females get 340-355 mg. Consider taking half as much magnesium as you do calcium, to offset calcium's constipating effect and to ensure the appropriate balance of these two key minerals in the body. Look for magnesium citrate, chelate, or glycinate, and avoid magnesium oxide, which can be irritating to the digestive tract.

Good dietary sources of magnesium include whole grains, leafy green vegetables (spinach is a great source), almonds, cashews and other nuts, avocados, beans, soybeans and halibut. A diet high in fat may cause less magnesium to be absorbed, and cooking may decrease the magnesium content of food.

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What Foods Do You Crave Most Often? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed food addiction and if it is the cause of obesity: Addicted to Food? Check out the article and let us know what foods you crave most often.


Why Take Blood Pressure in Both Arms?

If you take your own blood pressure, it’s a good idea to check it in both arms (and ask your doctor to do so as well). A study published in the March 2014, issue of The American Journal of Medicine found that a 10- point difference or more in blood pressure readings when comparing the pressures in both arms is an independent risk factor for heart disease. The study included 3,390 people age 40 and older who were followed for an average of more than 13 years. None of them had cardiovascular disease when they enrolled, but during the 13-year follow up period, 598 had a first heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular problems. Of those 598, 14 percent had a difference of 10 points or more in systolic blood pressure (the top number) from one arm compared to the other. This difference was associated with an increased risk for a cardiac event, the researchers concluded, even when an individual had no other apparent risk factors including age, cholesterol, body mass index and high blood pressure. The researchers noted that other studies have associated disparate readings between arms with a narrowing of an artery that supplies blood to the upper extremities.

Ido Weinberg et al, “The Systolic Blood Pressure Difference Between Arms and Cardiovascular Disease in the Framingham Heart Study,” The American Journal of Medicine, March 2014


How to Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise (Video)

The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  5. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

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A Good Reason to Keep Your Cool

Losing your temper can raise your risk of a heart attack or stroke within hours after your meltdown. A review and analysis of nine studies conducted between 1966 and 2013 found that within two hours of an angry outburst, the risk of a heart attack or acute coronary syndrome (which means heart attack or angina) increased nearly five-fold. The analysis also suggested the risk of stroke increased nearly four-fold, as did the risk of ventricular arrhythmia, a dangerous heart rhythm disorder. The researchers reported that the risk was highest among people who often lost their temper and also had existing risk factors for heart problems. While the individual risk of having a coronary event after an angry blowup is generally pretty low, the investigators wrote that among people who get angry more often, five outbursts a day would lead to approximately 158 extra heart attacks per 10,000 people per year among those at low risk, and 657 extra heart attacks among those at high risk.

Elizabeth Mostofsky et al,  “Outbursts of anger as a trigger of acute cardiovascular events: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” European Heart Journal, DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehu033, published online 3 March 2014