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Posts tagged ‘heart disease’

And Now, For the Rest of the Story

Paul Harvey used to say that every week. “The rest of the story” was often an amazing twist, or possibly a subtle one, giving us a different perspective on things. Well, here is “the rest of the story” on a few articles I ran across this morning.

“Don’t use aspirin to prevent heart disease, FDA warns”

This story sounds ominous, and makes it sound like the research has changed, but it’s very misleading. First, Bayer wanted to change its packaging to say it prevents heart attacks, and the FDA nixed that. Second, according to the article, it was their regular strength aspirin, which isn’t what you would use preventively anyway. Third, the FDA stated the risk of bleeding was too great, which is a captain obvious moment for anyone who knows how aspirin prevents heart attacks. No, we don’t want the general public scarfing down aspirin to prevent heart attacks. Self medication is often a bad idea, especially if people have no idea about dosages and side effects. However, a baby aspirin taken on a daily basis, which is less than a third of the amount in regular aspirin, is often prescribed to prevent heart disease.

“The One Diet that Just Keeps Proving Itself”

This article isn’t bad, just incomplete. I’d be a  fan of the mediterranean diet, if you could tell me what it was. My problem with it is that it is difficult to pin down. In this article from the AHA, they point out the obvious, that mediterranean cultures vary, and many don’t eat the “mediterranian diet” that is often espoused here in America. Oldways, an American entity. is actually the source for the diet as we know it.

“Oldways, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the European Office of the World Health Organization introduced the classic Mediterranean Diet in 1993 at a conference in Cambridge, MA, along with a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid graphic to represent it visually.”

I have no problem with the Oldways version. I don’t think it’s any different than any other diet that emphasises eating whole, unprocessed food, heavy on the fruits and veggies, which is how we should all be eating. The Dash diet is just as good, and I like South Beach as well. They all say the same things, lots of vegetables and fruit, lesser amounts of whole grains, still smaller amounts of protein, with an emphasis on fish, chicken and plant sources of protein, and still less of anything else.

“Struggling to Eat Healthy? Keep These Low-Cal, Heavy-Value Options Around”

This one is just another “list article“, which I have to admit, I do enjoy. I included it to make the point that healthy eating doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Most of the healthiest foods are very cheap. I eat beans and rice every week, and dried beans are still about $1.20 a pound. Cooked, that would make three weeks of meals for me. Before you say “oh, that’s too much work”, while you are cooking dinner, put some beans in a microwave safe dish, with plenty of water, so they are well covered. Nuke them for about three minutes. Leave them while you eat and clean up. Before bed, drain them, put them in your crock pot with more water to cover, and cook them on low overnight. In the morning, you are set. You can add spices and seasonings to the beans if you know what you want them to taste like. The last batch I did, I was cooking soup bones, I added the beans, cooked them for about four hours, fished them and some of the meat out, added vegetables and barley, cooked that for another two hours and got two different meals from the same soup bones. Very little meat, yet both dishes have a great meaty flavor. Get a rice cooker and you are all set. Especially if you are like me and get distracted so you burn the rice.

So that’s my take on the news this week. Remember, most news articles have a “rest of the story”, so don’t take what you read at face value. Ask yourself, “How does this fit in with what I already know? What aren’t they telling me?”

Statistics and Lies

Mark Twain did not care much for statistics, he said:

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.


There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

I have reason to agree, when simple curiosity drove me to do some quick research. Every time there is an article on health, I read it. The one that caught my eye today was one on Yahoo that another country beat out the United States as the fattest country. The main thrust of the article was that Mexico now has a greater proportion of obese people than the U.S. .This made me think about the link between obesity and heart disease, wondering where Mexico and the United States fall in the ratings of heart disease, so I went looking for statistics on heart disease to see what sort of correlation there was. That is where things got interesting. I googled it and clicked on the first two links. Both claimed to use the latest sources, both cited WHO, the World Health Organization, and yet they don’t have the same information. Part of this could be what filters they use, and that is part of the problem with statistics, they are endlessly maniple. The first site I went to worldlifeexpentancy.com, listed Turkmenistan as the number one country for coronary heart deaths, and Slovakia was way down on the list. The second site, nationmaster.com, listed Slovakia first, and Turkmenistan wasn’t even on their list. The initial article said that Japan was the slimmest country, and it was way down on both lists for heart disease, but not at the same point, and the number of deaths per million differed on the two lists.

I went to WHO’s website to try to find their original source, but either they don’t put it up there, or you can’t find it with a search engine. The closest I could get was a listing of CVD and diabetes. If anyone has a link to it, please put it in the comments, I would be interested.

Getting back to my original article, it raises some interesting points about the interpretation of facts:

According to a new report from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the United States is no longer the world’s fattest developed nation―Mexico is.

The key word here is developed. Take that out, and you go from Mexico’s 32 % to :

The world’s fattest nation overall is Nauru, a South Pacific island where a staggering 71.1 percent of its 10,000 inhabitants are obese.

The U.N. report does not include data for American Samoa, which has been tabbed in the past as the world’s fattest country. According to a 2010 World Health Organization report, nearly all of that Pacific island’s inhabitants (95 percent) are considered overweight.

So one world makes a word of difference in what we are talking about. To quote Mark Twain again, “it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug”. There are many points to be made from this little exercise.

  • People are doing their best to study health and fitness, the shifting recommendations come from a variety of factors. A lot of smart people are spending a lot of time gathering data, and trying to come up with study designs that compensate for the flaws of previous ones.
  • After we’ve collected the data, It has to be analyzed, and that is fraught with hazards. That is where bias can wreak havoc.
  • Every word can count. What factors are included/excluded from the study?
  • News reporters just read the summaries, they don’t sift through the data to see if the summary is justified. A study might show a weak correlation between two things, and the news article may read “A causes B!”
  • Heart disease is affected by a lot more than just weight. The top countries for heart disease have high rates of smoking, and less health care.
  • The furthur you get from primary sources, the more corrupted the data.

It is hard to when the information changes over time, and it will. I don’t want anyone to get discouraged, just don’t put all your faith in one study, or get cynical when a study gets discredited.  It takes a whole lot of research to get any kind of picture of what is really going on.

Many of you may have heard about the link between omega 3’s and prostate cancer. The whole fish oil craze started with studying people who ate high amounts of cold water fish, and their lower risk of heart disease. They then took the fish into the laboratory to see what aspect of it was causing this. Once the oil was isolated, we then started to put it in a pill, for those who don’t like fish. We can’t study every aspect at once, so the prostate link wasn’t found right away. We are starting to see that even if there is one active compound in a food, it doesn’t seem to have the same effect once isolated that it appeared to have in the food.

The last point I’d like to make on this is that we will all die of something, at some point. All we can do is try to improve the quality of life until the end. No food will extend your life to extreme levels, and there are a variety of factors that influence health and life expectancy. Pills are not magic, and they all have side effects. You are far better off eating the best you can and not worrying about the rest. By the way, if you read that  link to the 2010 WHO report inside the quote I put in this article, it will dispell any doubts you may have about the link between diet and life expectancy.

Do Supplements Really Help?

Here is yet another article informing us that taking pills will not solve our problems. Even the highly touted fish oil, the one that to my knowledge no one has ever said anything negative about, appears to be ineffective against preventing heart disease if it is already established, or if you are at really high risk. Here is the money quote, in my opinion:

The results do show that people can’t rely on a pill to make up for a bad diet, she said.

“It is sort of like breaking a fish oil capsule over a hot fudge sundae and expecting the effect of the calories and saturated fat to go away,” she said.

We’ve gone through this in the past, with vitamin c and e, where when people eat diets high in these vitamins, they have less disease and greater health, but the same health benefits don’t apply to taking those vitamins in pill form. You can’t eat a poor diet and expect pills to make up the difference, and as far as we can tell, pills don’t have the same effect as the substance does in food.

Having said all this, I do take some supplements. Some I think do help, although it could be the placebo effect. I also eat a very healthy diet. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a strong genetic predisposition to heart disease, so I am doing an experiment of 1 to see if I can counteract that with diet and exercise. I experiment with supplements on three criteria- Is there any scientific evidence supporting their claims? Is it expensive? Is there any possibility of harm? Most I’ve dropped, as I see no difference. The joint supplements do seem to help, so those I continue. And yes, I do fish oil, along with my healthy diet, as it does no harm and is inexpensive.

K2, Not Just a Mountain Anymore.

So, as I often do, I was listening to a podcast, in this case, Ben Greenfield Fitness. He was interviewing Kate Rheaume-Bleue, the author of “Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox”. It was her contention that K2 is a little known vitamin that controls calcium pathways in the body, getting it out of the arteries where it can damage them, and into the bones where it increases bone density. Well, as much as I enjoy Ben’s podcasts, he has had some interesting characters on there, so I did some research, and found enough support in PubMed and Google Scholar to say it is worth at least taking the $10 bottle. With my family history of heart disease, and being a skinny, short white woman (risk factors for osteoporosis), it is low cost enough to make it worth it. Not to mention that one of the PubMed articles was on toxicity, and there is no known risk.

Here is some of the more fun stuff I found:

food sources of Vitamin K2 -this blog source has humor, natto, a fermented bean product from Japan is extremely high in K2, but the author talks about how slimy and disgusting the stuff was.

Here’s another, touting the the benefit of butter oil and pate foie gras.

So I’m going to start taking it. I’ll let you know if I find out anything more.

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