New drug dissolves arterial plaque – a major cause of heart disease

An injectable drug, Repatha, has been shown to dissolve damaging arterial plaques in a new patient trial.

Plaque deposits are responsible for clogging up arteries and contribute to blood clots – a major cause of heart attacks. Clots block the blood supply to the heart, leaving the crucial cardiac muscles starved of oxygen. Therefore treatments which can stop or reverse the build up of atheromas, cut heart attack risk and save lives.
Data from a trial of 968 patients, was unveiled at the recent American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions meeting in New Orleans, and showed that 64% of those treated with both Repatha and statins saw their atheromas shrink over 18 months.

But of the statins group only 48% experienced shrinkage and to a far smaller degree. Whereas the average patient treated with Repatha had a shrinkringe of plaque of 5.8 cubic mm, more than six times more than the 0.9 cubic mm shrinkage seen among those treated with statins alone.

Researcher Dr Stephen Nicholls, of the University of Adelaide, said the plaque reversal was ‘really quite profound’ – and was more than enough to stop a heart attack.

‘It is the difference in disease progression between those who have an event and those who don’t,’ he told the meeting.

Coronary heart disease, in which the major arteries become clogged, affects more than 2.3million people in Britain, and 69,000 die from heart attacks every year.

US company Amgen which makes the drug hopes that an even larger trial which completes next year , of nearly 30,000 people, will prove that the medicine does stop heart attacks.

Repatha is already available in the UK on the NHS and an estimated 325,000 people in the UK are already eligible to be prescribed it. That approval was made on the basis of trials which showed they reduced cholesterol by about 60 per cent more than statins.

Repatha is one of the first new cholesterol treatments developed since statins launched some 30 years ago – offer the first real alternative for people who cannot cope with the brutal muscle aches that sometimes accompany statins, or for whom statins simply do not work.

They have been approved in the UK for two main groups – those with a genetic condition which means they have dangerously high cholesterol, and people with heart disease who cannot cope with the side effects of statins.

But the new findings suggest the drugs could benefit hundreds of thousands more people – with up to 1.5million people potentially benefitting if the guidelines are changed.

The researchers, led by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, found patients were still seeing their plaques shrink even when their cholesterol levels had reached very low levels – about a tenth of the level at which British patients are eligible for the drug.

Repatha, which is also known as evolocumab has so far been given to only handfuls of NHS patients, mostly because the of the cost. It costs about £4,400 per patient per year, although the NHS has agreed an undisclosed discount on this price.

Statins are incredibly cheap in comparison, costing the NHS about £20 a year per patient.

But doctors are more likely to start prescribing the drugs based on the new findings, which show for the first time that it has a clinical effect that extends beyond simply lowering cholesterol.

Sparkling mineral water may contain higher salt levels than tap water

Many carbonated mineral waters may contain high levels of salt



And drinking large amounts daily can contribute to unhealthy salt levels and make you more thirsty. Tap water contains only 0.45g of salt per litre compared to luxury mineral brands, some of which are the worst offenders:

  • French Badoit contains 8 per cent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of salt for adults, with 0.45g per litre.  It’s 11 times saltier than tap water.
  • Italian brand San Pellegrino has double the amount of salt found in tap water, with  0.08g per litre
  • Buxton sparkling water contains 0.06g per litre – one and a half times the salt in tap water.
  • Spa Barisart and Highland Spring are two of the least salty on the market, with just 0.01g of salt per litre, a quarter of the amount found in tap water.

Consuming too much salt can cause a number of health problems including raising blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, and kidney problems.

In the UK the recommended maximum daily consumption of salt is 6g.  But consumers can be confused by the different names given to salt such as sodium or the chemical name Na.

Although the British Soft Drinks Federation says new guidelines will ensure that salt is called salt in drinks from December.


Alcohol causes weight gain and high blood pressure, with no benefit to heart, claims new study

Reducing consumption, even among light drinkers, can improve heart health, reduce body mass index, and bring down blood pressure.

According to a large new international study, even moderate drinking may not be good for the heart.
Red wine glass small-thumb-192x313-1136

The study defines light to moderate drinking as consuming 0.6 to 0.8 fluid ounces of alcohol a day, or 17 to 23 ml, which is roughly what a 175 ml glass of wine contains.

The 155 researchers – from the UK, continental Europe, North America, and Australia – analysed data about links between drinking habits and heart health from 56 epidemiological studies covering more than 260,000 people of European descent.

They found that people with a particular gene consumed 17% less alcohol per week, were less likely to binge drink, and were more likely to abstain from alcohol altogether, than non- carriers.

These lower alcohol consumers typically had a 10% average reduced risk of coronary heart disease, lower blood pressure and a lower body mass index (BMI).

The researchers conclude that reducing alcohol consumption across all levels of consumption – even light to moderate drinking – is beneficial for heart health.

Co-author Michael Holmes, a research assistant professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine’s department of Transplant Surgery, says, “Contrary to what earlier reports have shown, it now appears that any exposure to alcohol has a negative impact upon heart health.”

He added that observational studies have suggested only heavy drinking is bad for the heart, and that light drinking might even provide some benefit, and this has led some people to believe moderate consumption is good for their health, even lowering their risk of heart disease.

“However, what we’re seeing with this new study, which uses an investigative approach similar to a randomized clinical trial, is that reduced consumption of alcohol, even for light-to-moderate drinkers, may lead to improved cardiovascular health,” says Prof. Holmes.

The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation and the UK’s Medical Research Council, examined the heart health of people who carry a particular version of the gene “alcohol dehydrogenase 1B” which is a protein that helps to break down alcohol more quickly than in non-carriers.

The rapid breakdown causes nausea, facial flushing, and other symptoms, and is linked to lower levels of alcohol consumption over time.
The team used the gene as an indicator of lower alcohol consumption, and from there found the links between lower consumption and improved heart health.

Mediterranean Diet does extend lifespan of older people, scientists confirm

Las Palmas: Middle-aged people living on a Mediterranean-style diet are healthier and likely to live longer, confirm Spanish scientists.
In an article published online (July 18) in the Journal of Nutrition, Spanish researchers report a significantly reduced risk of dying over a 6.8 year average follow-up period by those who follow a  Mediterranean diet in middle-age.
Dr Almunena Sanchez-Velegas of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria said: “To our knowledge, our study is the first to report a strong inverse association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and mortality among Mediterranean middle aged adults at low risk of mortality.
Dr Sanchez-Villegas’ team evaluated data from 15,535 Spanish university graduates who participated in the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) Project, which began enrollment in 1999. Subjects in the current study had an average age of 38 and were free of cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer upon enrollment. 
Dietary questionnaires completed at the beginning of the study and during follow-up were graded according to adherence to the Mediterranean diet, which is characterized by a high intake of vegetables, cereals, legumes, olive oil, fish, fruit and nuts; moderate wine consumption, low to moderate intake of dairy products and decreased meat consumption.
One hundred twenty-five deaths occurred between 1999 and 2010. Compared with participants who had low adherence to the diet, moderate adherence was associated with a 42 percent lower adjusted risk of dying and high adherence with a 62 percent lower risk
When each dietary component was separately assessed, fruit and nuts emerged as significantly protective foods. The diet’s protective benefit was strongest against death from cardiovascular disease and causes other than cancer. The authors suggest that the diet has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects as well as prevention of endothelial (artery) damage as disease protective mechanisms associated with high Mediterranean diet adherence.
“Our results provide evidence supporting that closer adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet can considerably reduce mortality even among young and low-risk adults.
“This link provides further evidence on the importance of promoting the adherence to the Mediterranean diet among the general population.”
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Tangerines protect from heart disease

New York: Eating tangerines may help protect against heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity, according to new US research.

This is because it contains a substance called Nobiletin, a pigment found in tangerine peel, is ten times more potent than a similar one derived from grapefruit which protects from obesity and metabolic syndrome.


tangerine.jpgResearchers from the University of Western Ontario, in Canada, fed two groups of mice a diet high in fats and simple sugars, reports the journal Diabetes.

One group had symptoms of illness such as elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood levels of insulin and glucose and a fatty liver – all of which increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. But a second group on the same diet but who were fed Nobiletin showed no similar rise. The substance also protected them from atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque in arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Eating tangerines could protect against heart attacks, diabetes and stroke as well as staving off obesity

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Don’t save your alcohol units until the weekend

wineA study comparing patterns of alcohol consumption in Northern Ireland and France found that the binge drinkers of Belfast were at a much greater risk of heart disease.  The choice of beer or wine may also be important.

The volume of alcohol consumed by middle aged men in Northern Ireland and France is almost identical. However, in Belfast, the alcohol is all consumed within one or two days at the weekend. Drinkers in France tend to consume the same amount over a whole week.

The researchers, led by Dr Jean-Bernard Ruidavets from Toulouse University, investigated whether drinking patterns in Northern Ireland and France were linked to the known disparity in heart disease between these two culturally diverse countries.

In the study, binge drinking was defined as drinking more than 4- 5 drinks over a short period, where a drink equates to a 125ml glass of wine or half pint of beer.

Over a ten year period, Ruidavets and colleagues assessed the alcohol consumption of 9,758 men from three centres in France (Lille, Strasbourg and Toulouse) and Belfast. The participants were free from heart disease when the research started in 1991 and were between the ages of 50 to 59.

The participants were divided into never drinkers, former drinkers, regular drinkers and binge drinkers. The ‘drinkers’ were asked via interviews and questionnaires about the volume of alcohol they consumed on a weekly and daily basis and also about the type of beverage.

The results show that the men who “binge” drink had nearly twice the risk of heart attack or death from heart disease compared to regular drinkers over the 10 years of follow up.

The researchers write: “the prevalence of binge drinking, which doubled the risk of ischaemic heart disease compared with regular drinking, was almost 20 times higher in Belfast than in the French centres.”

The drink of choice in both countries may also play a role; beer and spirits are most commonly consumed in Northern Ireland, with wine being France’s preferred tipple. Established research has concluded that drinking a moderate about of wine can protect against heart disease.

Ruidavets and colleagues conclude that the research has important public health implications, especially given that binge drinking is on the rise amongst younger people in Mediterranean countries.

They say: “The alcohol industry takes every opportunity to imbue alcohol consumption with the positive image, emphasising its beneficial effects on ischaemic heart disease risk, but people also need to be informed about the health consequences of heavy drinking.”

Read the full paper below;

Fuss about food – Salt

Bowl of saltSalt plays a vital role in our lives, regulating fluid movement in our bodies and maintaining nerve signals. When we begin to suffer from salt deficiency, we experience muscular weakness, exhaustion and dehydration.

Salt is essential but extremely overused.

Are you one of the 26 million people in the UK who eat too much of it? We are a nation of crisp lovers – a double whammy of fat and salt makes them one of the unhealthiest snacks available.

Overuse of salt also leads to serious health problems: we are sure you know the warnings about its effect on heart health and blood pressure. It is also linked to higher risk of stroke.

Even if you are one of the saintly ones who do not put any salt on their food at the dinner table you are probably still eating too much – 75% of the salt we eat is already added to our food.

Look at the ingredients labels next time you go to the supermarket – how many labels tell you there is salt added? This is the case even with sweet products. It is added for flavour purposes, as perhaps a cheaper alternative to other spices; Salt is a cheap ingredient, like sugar, and also like sugar, is not needed in such high amounts.

Some experts think the only way to really reduce our intake is to impose a mandatory curb on dietary salt.

In fact, imposing statutory limits on the salt content of processed foods could be 20 times more effective than voluntary curbs by industry, finds research published online in the journal Heart.

The Australian researchers, from the University of Queensland, assessed the public health benefits and cost effectiveness of different strategies for reducing dietary salt content. They looked at the current Australian ‘Tick’ programme which enables food manufacturers to buy an endorsed logo for use on product packaging to achieve higher sales in return for voluntarily reducing the salt content of these products.

They also looked at the impact of mandatory reductions in salt content; and professional advice to cut dietary salt for those at increased and high risk of cardiovascular disease.

They then evaluated the different strategies in terms of their impact on years of good health over a lifetime, and the associated savings in long term healthcare spend.

The researchers took into consideration the salt content of bread, margarine, and cereals; the tonnage of product sold; average consumption per head of these products; the costs of drafting and enforcing legislation; and systematic reviews of the evidence for the impact of dietary advice from healthcare professionals.

Their calculations showed that 610,000 years of healthy life could be gained if everyone reduced their salt intake to recommended limits (maximum of 6 g a day).

It was found that providing dietary advice to reduce salt intake was not cost effective even when targeting those with heart disease.

A voluntary reduction of salt by industry amounted to a reduction of 1% in the population.

But the health benefits across the population could be 20 times greater if the government imposed mandatory limits, the figures showed, amounting to a reduction of 18% in ill health from cardiovascular disease.

The authors conclude that food manufacturers have a responsibility to make money for their shareholders, but they also have a responsibility to society. If corporate responsibility fails, maybe there is an ethical justification for government to step in and legislate.

If you want to read about research similar to this, the link to the Heart Journal is below…

Fuss about food – Omega 3

fishoil.jpgAfter the big ‘fat is bad’ push of the 1980s and 1990s, we are finally coming around to the idea that some fats are good for us.

But which ones?

The good ones are Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs).

Omega 3 and 6 fats are PUFAs and are classed as essential.
Our bodies cannot manufacture these so we need to make sure we are eating foods which contain them.

It seems like every day we hear about something else that we should be eating or drinking. So what makes Omega 3 special?

We need good fats for a whole host of things – every cell in your body relies on fat to survive. They are essential for nerve, heart and brain health and for nearly all of the body’s basic functions.

We seem to have no problem getting enough Omega 6 fat but there is one big catch – Omega 6 fats are dependent on Omega 3 to produce optimal health benefits and are only considered good fats when consumed in moderation.

Omega 3 fats have an amazing role in your body as an anti-imflammatory. Consuming them reduces your risks of developing heart disease, arthritis and cancer. It is widely acknowledged to have a pivotal role in the prevention of heart disease.

Omega 6 fats, while helpful in reducing bad cholesterol, can promote inflammation within our bodies when too much is consumed – a very undesirable quality. The developed world, as a whole, is extremely inflamed.

In the US, diets tend to contain up to 25 times more Omega 6 than Omega 3 fats.

Mediterranean diets have long been studied to identify exactly what promotes heart health and longevity. These studies have indicated that it is the healthy balance between Omega 3 and 6 fatswhich leads to a longer and healthier life.

People who follow such a diet are much less likely to develop heart disease. The mediterranean diet traditionally contains much reduced levels of meat consumption, which is a major source of omega 6 fats. It focuses on foods rich in omega 3 fats, including wholegrains, fresh fruit and vegetables, garlic, fish and olive oil. Moderate intake of wine also adds something to the balance.

If you only take one supplement a day, health professionals are almost all in agreement that it should be a fish oil supplement.

Clinical evidence suggests that EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil) help reduce risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Fish oil has been shown to lower levels of triglycerides (fats in the blood), and to lower risk of death, heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heart rhythms in people who have already had a heart attack.

If you are sceptical about the importance of these fats, consider the symptoms of someone suffering from a defiency in Omega 3; tiredness, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings, depression and poor circulation.

Omega 3 fats are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. So if you feel like you need a memory or energy boost, you could find your answer in changing your diet just a little bit.

If you are on blood thinners or diabetes medication, you should consult your GP before starting to take fish oil supplements.

Later this week we will be examining a sinner of the fat world – Trans fats.

Scientists reveal how L-Arginine cleans arteries


London: Scientists at Imperial College London have used a new chemical imaging technique to reveal how a simple dietary supplement cleans up arteries.

The new technique could one day help in the fight against atherosclerosis – the disease in which arteries get clogged up with plaque and fats, suggests the research research. (published in the August 2009 edition of the Journal of the Royal Society Interface).

Atherosclerosis is the disease underlying most heart attacks and strokes and it is characterised by lesions in the arteries, made of fats, collagen and cells.

The lesions cause artery walls to harden and thicken, which severely restricts the flow of blood around the body and they can also rupture, leading to heart attacks and strokes. Understanding the precise chemical composition of an individual’s lesions is important because the ones with higher levels of a type of fat, called cholesteryl ester, are more prone to rupture.

The team behind the new imaging technique, which is known as Attenuated Total Reflection Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopic Imaging (ATR-FTIR imaging), believe that with further refinement, it could become a useful tool for doctors wanting to assess a patient’s lesions.

For example, by combining fibre optic technology with ATR-FTIR imaging, the researchers believe doctors could carry out real-time inspections of patients with atherosclerosis, in order to assess the progress of the disease and establish which patients are at the greatest risk of complications.

Currently, doctors can use ultrasound to assess the size and location of lesions but they need to take biopsies of lesions in order to determine their chemistry. This is a complex and invasive procedure.

The researchers say the ATR-FTIR imaging could potentially improve current imaging techniques because it could combine imaging and chemical analysis, which would provide a comprehensive and accurate picture of a patient’s lesions in one procedure. In the present study, the researchers demonstrated that ATR-FTIR imaging was able to reveal the precise composition and size of the lesions and the levels of elastin, collagen and cholesteryl ester in them.

The ATR-FTIR imaging technology works by using infrared light to identify different chemical molecules, which are mapped by an array detector to create a ‘chemical photograph’.

The researchers used the technique to study the effects of age and an amino acid called L-arginine on the composition of lesions in cholesterol-fed rabbits. The work appeared to confirm that dietary L-arginine can remove lesions in the arteries of mature rabbits.

The researchers say further studies need to be done before the ATR-FTIR imaging could be used for patient care.

Lead-author, Professor Sergei Kazarian, from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemical Technology at Imperial College London, says:

“Atherosclerosis can be a dangerous condition and our hope is that with further work, our approaches could ultimately be used to determine which patients are most at risk of complications. That way, doctors can target treatments at those patients who most need it, in order to prevent strokes and heart attacks.”

This research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Vitamin D fights type 2 diabetes


Helskinki: Scientists have discovered that higher levels of vitamin D may offer protection against tyep 2, adult onset diabetes.

Several thousand people, aged 40 to 74, were monitored over a 22-year-period, during which time 412 developed the disease.

Results showed that those with higher levels of vitamin D had the lower risk of diabetes. In particular, men with the highest blood level of the vitamin were 72 per cent less likely to develop the disease.

It is thought that low levels of vitamin D affect the body’s ability to produce insulin.

Vitamin D is produced naturally in the body by sunlight and it is also found in certain foods such as oily fish.

Diabetes is a growing problem, particularly in ageing adults and those who are overweight, particularly with high levels of belly fat are most at risk.

Breast milk reduces heart attack risk

London: Scientists have discovered another reason why breast is best – it can lower your blood cholesterol in later life, according to research from St George’s, University of London funded by the British Heart Foundation.

The study discovered that exposure to breast milk in the first months of life may reduce blood cholesterol levels and the risk of developing heart disease in adult life.

The findings are based on a review of data from over 17,000 participants (4,608 were formula-fed and 12,890 were breast-fed) showing adults who had been breastfed had a lower mean total blood cholesterol than those who had been fed formula. It concludes that early exposure to the high cholesterol content of human milk affects long-term cholesterol metabolism, which may modify risk of cardiovascular disease in later life.

The meta-analysis is to be published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’s (ACJN) August edition.

Study author Dr Chris Owen, Epidemiologist at St George’s, University of London, is an expert in cardiovascular risk factors in childhood, and works in the Division of Community Health Sciences.

He says: “The paper concludes that initial breastfeeding, particularly when exclusive, is associated with lower blood cholesterol concentrations in later life, compared to initial formula feeding.”

Dr Owen said there is substantial evidence to suggest that human milk does provide long-term, protective health benefits, breastfeeding should be advocated, when possible, as the preferred method of feeding in early life.

“This study provides further evidence that breast feeding has long-term health benefits. Apart from all its other effects, it appears to lower blood cholesterol in later life. The results also suggest that formula feeds should match the context of breast milk as closely as possible – any attempt to reduce the fat content of formula feeds could be counter-productive” said Dr Owen.

Primary Article Reference

Owen CG, Whincup PH, Kaye SJ et al. Does initial breastfeeding lead to lower blood cholesterol in adult life? A quantitative review of the evidence. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008; 88:305-314.

About St George’s
St George’s, University of London is the only institution to provide training to a full range of more than 2,600 healthcare and sciences students on one site. As well as providing courses in medicine and biomedical sciences, the college also offers courses in midwifery, nursing, physiotherapy, radiography and social work in conjunction with Kingston University. The school is dedicated to promoting by excellence in teaching, clinical practice and research, the prevention, treatment and understanding of disease. It is extremely active in research and has a high reputation in areas such as infection, diseases of the heart and circulation, cell signalling and epidemiology. Other areas of expertise include genetics, health and social care sciences and mental health.

Mediterrean diet protects against diseases of ageing, says new research

New York: The consumption of a “Mediterranean” style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, pulses, cereals and fish decreases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to new US research.

Dr Nikolaos Scarmeas, assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York says that the diet helps prevent the disease by protecting the brain from degeneration caused by inflammation.

Another study, pulbished in the Archives of Neurology, also concludes that that taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements slows cognitive decline in some patients with very mild Alzheimer’s disease. But do not appear to help those with advanced Alzheimer’s.

The Scarmeas’s team collected data on almost 2,000 people averaging 76 years of age, 194 had developed Alzheimer’s. The researchers analyzed their diet during the previous year and scored the diet based on how closely it followed the Mediterranean diet, which included moderate alcohol intake and some red meat.

Scores ranged from zero to 9. Higher scores were given for closely following a Mediterranean diet.

People who closely followed that regimen had a significantly lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers found. For each additional point on the diet score, risk for Alzheimer’s was reduced by 19 to 24 percent.

In fact, people in the top one-third of diet scores had 68 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared with people in the bottom third. In addition, people in the middle third had a 53 percent lower risk of developing the disease.

Professor Scarmeas said it appeared that the diet provided protection for a number of conditions including coronary heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, obesity and a series of cancers. He said it therefore appeared to make sense to follow this diet anyway, and the diet may also protect from Alzheimer’s disease.

In the second report, a team led by Dr. Yvonne Freund-Levi from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, looked at the effects of omega-3 fatty acids supplements on 204 patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

After six months, among the 174 people who completed the trial, the researchers found no difference in cognitive decline among people taking omega-3 fatty acids supplements at different doses or placebo.

However, for a subgroup of 32 patients with very mild cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study, those taking the supplements experienced less cognitive decline compared with those who took placebo, the researchers found.

And when patients who took placebo during the first six months were given omega-3 fatty acids supplements, their cognitive decline decreased during the second six months of the trial.

“The mechanisms by which omega-3 fatty acids could interfere in Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiologic features are not clear, but since anti-inflammatory effects are an important part of the profile of fish oils, they are conceivable also for Alzheimer’s disease,” the researchers write. “It is possible that when the disease is clinically apparent, the neuropathologic involvement is too advanced to be substantially attenuated by anti-inflammatory treatment.”

One expert said that, given the other health benefits of fish oil, it certainly can’t hurt patients to take supplements.

“I am happy to tell people that if they want to reduce their risk for Alzheimer’s, they should reduce their cardiovascular disease risk factors and take fish oil,” said Greg M. Cole, a neuroscientist at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System, and the associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

A second expert agreed that diet probably does influence the disease.

“The papers share a focus on the idea that diet plays a role in Alzheimer’s, a consensus that has been building for the past five or six years,” said Dr. Sam Gandy, the chair of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council at the Alzheimer’s Association and director of the Farber Institute for Neurosciences at Thomas Jefferson University.

“The common thread is that both papers point toward intervention at the earliest moment having a greater effect and the suggestion that prevention may have the greatest effect of all,” Gandy said.

“Once the gooey amyloid material has accumulated and poisoned nerve cells and the cells have died, it is very hard to think seriously about repairing damage that severe,” he added.

British scientists warn on stem cell treatments abroad

London: British scientists have warned against the use of “unproven” stem cell treatments at foreign clinics.

Fourteen medical charities have signed a statement warning of the dangers of such untested therapies.

Signatories include Professor Colin Blakemore, chairman of the UK Stem Cell Funders Forum, Lord Patel, chairman of the steering committee for the UK Stem Cell Bank, and Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society.

Many people with serious chronic illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease and multiple sclerosis are paying substantial sums for potential cures using stem cells, although the experts say there is no evidence that they can be cured.

The experts say these patients put themselves at risk of infection and even cancer as a result.

Stem cell research is still in its earliest days. And in the UK body parts are only used for certain cancer treatments, skin grafts, immune system disand cornea.

Treatments which can cost thousands of pounds involve injecting cells at various points of the body where they are said to replace and repair damaged tissue and patients claim they have been life transforming.

A glass of cider may keep disease at bay

Glasgow: Cider, the fermented juice drink made from apples, may help protect against an array of diseases.

Even one glass daily may protect against stroke, heart disease and cancer according to research carried out at Glasgow University

Now a trial on patients in which they will be asked to drink a pint of cider a day, to see how the body reacts to the antioxidants known as phenolics.

Dr Serena Marks, who is leading the University of Glasgow study, said there was a connection between the antioxidants and protection from some diseases and that cider contained a higher amount of these beneficial substances than applies.

The scientists tested 19 varieties of English cider apple and 35 types of cider.

Amino acid improves heart function, says new study

Strasbourg: The dietary supplement, L-arginine, has been shown to improve heart health ina new study fromthe Institut de Physiologie in France.

L-arginine, is an amino acid and a precursor of nitric oxide, which supports the arteries. Dysfunction of this pathway reduces blood flow and limits physical activity.

The researchers gave L-arginine to six patients with chronic heart failure for a period of six weeks. The patients were subjected to endurance exercise tests. It was found that those taking the amino acid had a significant decrease in their average heart rate. But their blood pressure and respiratory parameters remained unchanged.

Increase in angina amongst older women, says new report

London: Middle-aged women are at the same risk of suffering from angina as men, according to a new report from researchers at University College London.

Angina, in which the arteries narrow and harden around the heart is also more common in both men and women.

The UK study looked at more than 100,000 patients aged between 45 and 89 suffering from angina and concluded that the prognosis for women is also far worse than for men with higher death rates, and doctors should give me more to investigating females.

In developed countries two women out of every 100 develop angina each year.
Symptoms include chest pain, breathlessness and poor circulation. Stopping smoking, increasing exercise and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol can reduce symptoms. Usually it is treated with a bypass, angioplasty in which the arteries are held open or drugs.

Women are protected from heart disease before the menopause by high oestrogen levels, which may hinder the development of problemsby improving blood flow and arterial flexibility.

The study, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was funded by the British Heart Foundation.

B vitamins may be harmful to heart patients

Oslo: A Norwegian study of around 4,000 heart attack survivors who were given high doses of vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid increased their risk of a second attack or stroke, it has been found.

B vitamins are one of the most popular health products on the market and taken by many to boost health and immune system. They are also thought to be helpful with premenstrual syndrome and other female problems. The Bs are also recommended to reduce homocysteine a substance found in the blood and linked to a number of health problems including heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

But the Norwegian study found no clear benefit, even after three years of treatment. Volunteers who took all three supplements faced a considerably higher risk of further heart attacks or strokes.

For those who took the full trio of supplements, the risk was 22 per cent higher, compared to a rise of up to 14 per cent for those who took vitamin B6 alone or a combination of B12 and folic acid.

Professor Kaare Harald Bonaa, of the University of Tromso, told a medical conference in Atlanta that some doctors were treating patients with B vitamins despite a paucity of supporting evidence.

‘Such therapy may even be harmful and should not be recommended,’ he said.

His conclusions were strengthened by a second study on the B vitamins also presented at the conference. A team of Canadian researchers gave more than 5,500 volunteers from 13 countries either a placebo or supplements of vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid.

The supplements in both studies were in doses at least double that available over the counter.

Although the vitamins in the Canadian study reduced levels of homocysteine, they did not cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In some cases, the supplements seemed to aggravate other health problems, lead researcher Dr Eva Lonn, of McMaster University in Ontario, said. Homocysteine is an amino acid produced by the body and found in the blood.

It was thought it could cause fatal blockages in the heart and brain by damaging the lining of the arteries and making blood more likely to clot.

But following the latest research – which will appear in the New England Journal of Medicine later this week – scientists believe it may be a sign, rather than a cause, of heart disease.

Health benefits of alcohol may be wrong

Auckland: Researchers in New Zealand say that a daily glass of wine, long recommended as beneficial for heart disease, may have the opposite effect.

They say previous research failed to allow for the fact that people who stop drinking because of heart problems may be included in studies and misclassified as never having consumed alcohol. This would result in the misleading impression that small amounts of alcohol consumed regularly protect against heart disease.

The latest analysis, reported in the medical magazine, The Lancet, contrasts with the prevalent opinion in France, where a daily glass of wine is seen as part of a healthy way of life.

One influential study recently suggested having up to three drinks a day, each containing about ten grams of alcohol, could reduce heart attack risk by a quarter.

But Dr Rod Jackson, who led the latest study, says any benefit from light to moderate drinking is probably small and unlikely to outweigh the harm caused by alcohol. He says the first studies showing the protective effect of alcohol were published in the 1970s and 1980s. These early observations were confirmed by a meta-analysis – a pooling together of findings from different studies, which indicated a 20 per cent to 25 per cent cut in heart disease risk linked to light drinking. But sDr Jackson of the University of Auckland claims these studies failed to avoid confounding errors that gave misleading results.

For instance, a study published this year involving 200,000 U.S. adults found 27 of 30 cardiovascular risk factors were significantly more common in non- drinkers than light to moderate drinkers.

Such risk factors, already present in study participants, could sway the results, it is suggested.

If anything, the evidence of heart protection is more convincing for heavy drinkers, say the Auckland experts.

Post-mortem studies show alcoholics have relatively ‘clean’ arteries, but the risks of alcohol abuse for these people greatly outweighed any benefit from drinking.

Alcohol abuse harms almost every organ in the body, causing problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, stomach bleeding, high blood pressure, stroke, nerve damage, osteoporosis and dementia.

Dr Jackson said: ‘Any coronary protection from light to moderate drinking will be very small and unlikely to outweigh the harms.’

Mediterranean diet reduces heart disease risk – new research

Marseille: A new study by French doctors has revealed that eating a Mediterranean-style diet for three months can reduce the risk of heart disease by 15 percent.

The report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that the heart-healthy effects of the Mediterranean diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish and olive oil and light on red meat, are well documented.

But this study looked at the effects when 212 men and women at moderate risk for heart disease were put on a Mediterranean diet or a standard low-fat diet for three months. Participants on the Mediterranean diet were instructed to eat fish four times a week and red meat only once a week. Men were allowed two glasses of red wine daily, while women were limited to one.

Recommendations for people on the low-fat diet were to eat poultry rather than beef, pork and other mammal meats; eat fish two or three times a week; stay away from animal products rich in saturated fat; and eat fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and vegetable oils.

While study participants did not follow all diet recommendations, the researchers found, eating habits did change in both groups. Study participants took in fewer calories and consumed more proteins and carbohydrates and less total fat and saturated fat. Both groups showed a small but significant drop in body mass index.

Among people on the Mediterranean diet, total cholesterol dropped by 7.5 percent, and it fell by 4.5 percent in the low-fat diet group. Based on this reduction, the researchers write, overall cardiovascular risk fell 15 percent with the Mediterranean diet and 9 percent with the low fat diet.

Both diets significantly reduced cardiovascular disease risk factors to an overall comparable extent said the researchers at the Faculty of Medicine Timone in Marseille

Stress increases risk of heart disease

London: High levels of stress can provoke an increase in bad blood cholesterol, researchers at University College London have discovered.

High levels of LDL cholesterol is the type implicated in a number ofillnesses including cancer, depression and heart disease. In the study by University College London, 199 healthy middle-aged men and women were set a computer task using words, colours and shapes designed to put them under pressure.

In later tests there was a large rise in their cholesterol levels, including LDL type which can lead to heart disease by damaging blood vessels and limiting circulation.

The research, reported in the journal Health Psychology, those whose levels had risen most after the task had higher levels overall even three years later. Some were three times more likely to have harmful cholesterol.

Stress and anxiety are one of the biggest causes of long-term sickness in developed countries and cost substantial amounts in lost production and health care.

Dr Andrew Steptoe, the lead researcher, said it is was not fully understood why stress raises cholesterol. It could be that it upsets how the body breaks down fats.
He said the responses to stress could be used to warn doctors about who may be at risk of heart disease.

Does impotence predict heart disease?

Modena: Impotence may be an early warning of heart disease even in men who appear healthy.

Researchers at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy studied 143 men with similar coronary risk factor scores, 70 of whom were impotent. Those with erectile dysfunction had higher levels of C-reactive protein, which is associated with damaged arteries.

The researchers said the smaller arteries supplying blood to the penis suffer obstructions earlier than the larger ones connected to the heart. They called for erectile dysfunction to form part of a general assessment of heart disease risk.

Exercise cuts male risk of dying from heart disease

Dallas: A study, published in the Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, shows that, regardless of cholesterol levels, men can cut by half their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease if they are physically fit.

The study has been carried out by researchers from Queen’s University School of Physical in Kingston and Health Education and Cooper Institute Centres for Integrated Health Research in Dallas.

The primary aim of the study was to analyze the effectiveness of last year’s modifications to the guidelines from the U.S. National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III ( NCEP ATP III ) for lowering LDL cholesterol to predict death from cardiovascular diseases.

“ We wanted to find out if the new guidelines could identify men at risk for cardiovascular disease,” says Katzmarzyk at Queen’s. “ We confirmed that the guidelines do accurately identify men at risk not only of disease, but also at risk of cardiovascular death. We also discovered that fitness is important across the board – at every level of cholesterol.”

Results also suggest that within a given risk category, physical fitness is associated with a greater than 50-per-cent lower risk of mortality. In this study, physical fitness was four to five, 30-minute segments of activity per week: equivalent to walking 130 to 138 minutes per week.

Researchers analyzed the cardiovascular risk factors and cardio-respiratory fitness of 19,125 men ages 20 to 79, who were treated at a preventive medicine clinic from 1979 -1995, prior to the revised treatment guidelines.

Using the new ATP III classifications:

· 58 per cent of the men would have met the criteria for being “at or below LDL cholesterol goal”;

· 18 per cent would have met the criteria for “ therapeutic lifestyle change ” – meaning diet, physical activity and weight management could lower LDL; and

· 24 per cent would have met the criteria for “drug consideration” for lowering LDL.

There were 179 deaths from cardiovascular disease over more than 10 years of follow-up.

Overall, compared to men who met the acceptable LDL level under the revised guidelines:

· Men who met the criteria for therapeutic lifestyle intervention had twice the risk of cardiovascular disease death; and

· Men eligible for aggressive cholesterol-lowering therapy had almost seven-times the risk.

The research was partly funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health ( NIH ).

Heart scan that can spot disease

London: A new scan that can spot heart disease up to ten years before symptoms appear is proving startlingly successful. A quarter of people scanned so far at one UK centre were found to have significant heart disease — despite having no symptoms.

The scan, which detects furring up of the arteries at its earliest stages and which has picked up disease in people as young as 35, allows preventive treatment to be taken before any damage has been done to the heart.

‘The fantastic advantage of this technology,’ says Dr Paul Jenkins, medical director of the European Scanning Centre, ‘is that it picks up disease when you can do something about it, whether it’s lifestyle changes, drugs or surgery.’ The electron beam computed tomography scan, or EBCT, is a sophisticated X-ray that detects coronary calcification — how hardened the arteries are — which is the first sign of heart disease.

Most other tests, such as exercise stress ECG (which measures the rhythm and electrical activity of the heart) or stress thallium (in which a radioactive marker is put into the bloodstream to reveal blood supply to the heart muscles) are reliable indicators only when heart disease is already so advanced that it has stopped the heart from working properly.

The scan, available at only a handful of UK centres, takes a series of images of the heart over a few minutes, while the patient is fully clothed, lying flat on their back. Then a ‘calcium score’ is calculated, which is compared with the scores of other men or women of the same age to determine individual risk of heart disease.

Treatment depends upon the level of calcium found and the age of the patient. For many, it will simply be lifestyle changes involving diet and exercise. For others, it will be statins, the cholesterol-lowering drug, while for a few it will mean angioplasty to open up the arteries, or bypass surgery.

‘The scan is non-invasive with very low-dose radiation,’ says Dr Jenkins, who is also a consultant physician at St Bart’s Hospital in London, ‘and it is an open scanner, so there is no problem for people with claustrophobia.

‘Calcium should be in your bones, not in your arteries. The total cost of heart disease in the UK is £7 billion and a lot of that goes on patching up people.’

Data from the European Scanning Centre shows how effective the scan can be: ‘We picked up many people who had very significant heart disease, before it had caused symptoms,’ says Dr Jenkins.

Although the scan does not calculate the risk of a stroke — which can be caused by furring up of arteries to the brain — the results can be an indicator, as people who have furring of the heart arteries are more likely to have furring up of the head and neck arteries. Ultrasound scans can assess stroke risk more directly.

Advice about just who should have the scan varies. In America, where it has been available for longer, some centres advise that men over 40 and women over 45 should consider an EBCT scan.

The more risk factors you have — high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and family history of heart disease — the more important the scan is.

The scan is available privately at the European Screening Centre in Harley Street, London, for £525.

Heart Disease


Heart disease is the world’s biggest killer causing one in four deaths in men and one in six in women. Although surgery and drugs can slow down the disease doctors believe that lifestyle (diet and exercise) is the most important contributing factor in whether you will develop it. Other contributing factors, some of which also result from poor diet and lifestyle, include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high cholestrol and a famly history of heart disease.

Heart disease is the biggest killer of woman and strikes after the menopause when protective hormone levels have diminished. Read more about woman and heart disease at Also read an interview with actress Jane Seymour who is actively campaigning to increase awareness of heart disease among women.

The role of homocysteine

Doctors recently discovered that high blood cholesterol is not the only factor involved in heart disease. Homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood may be a better indicator of disease (and a whole host of other ailments such as stroke and Alzheimer’s). Although most people have heard of cholesterol – the ‘bad’ fat which clogs arteries and raises the risk of suffering a heart attack – few of us will have heard of homocysteine

Homocysteine is a building block of protein is produced by the body as it metabolises proteins from the diet. Doctors now believe that it is responsible for cell damage and inflammation which kick-starts a host of diseases. More than 100 medical conditions have been linked to high levels of homocysteine. Even moderate rises in homocysteine lead to a five-fold increase in the risk of stroke, and almost triple the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies also link high levels of homocysteine to recurring miscarriage, infertility, arthritis, cancers of the breast, colon, thyroid and skin, hardening of the arteries, heart attacks, Raynaud’s disease, spina bifida, diabetes, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s and psoriasis. Early signs of high homocysteine levels include fatigue, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, as well as aches and pains in muscles and joints.

In healthy individuals, it is converted into important chemicals which are used to power the cells of the body and help them function properly. A disruption in this process – which can be caused by vitamin deficiencies, smoking, lack of exercise, old age, menopause, drinking too much tea, coffee and alcohol, inflammatory bowel diseases, ulcers and poor kidney function – can cause homocysteine levels to rise. Eating a diet overly rich in animal proteins – meat, poultry and dairy products -can also cause levels to rise. Animal proteins contain large amounts of amino acids, leading to the production of excessive amounts of homocysteine and raising levels in the blood.

High homocysteine levels may also occur as a result of deficiencies in B vitamins. Scientists have found that B vitamin supplements comprising folic acid, B2 and B6 have helped to lower homocysteine. Eating folate and B-vitamin rich foods such as spinach, wholegrains and liver may also help. Although hospital tests for homocysteine do exist, many GPs are not aware of them.

YorkTest, based at York Nutritional Laboratories in Yorkshire, has devised a home-testing kit. The kit, which costs £59.95, involves a finger-prick test to draw a drop of blood. This is placed onto a pad which separates the red blood cells from blood plasma in five minutes. The plasma sticks to the pad, which is put in a foiled pouch and sent to the laboratory to determine homocysteine levels. Levels as high as 20 micromoles per litre of blood had been recorded in some people, but ‘safe’ levels, are about 9 micromoles per litre.

Millions living with death sentence. See the latest British Heart Foundation statistics

Never say die….


In the past physical ageing was inevitable. Now, new scientific discoveries mean we can not only live longer but healthier and more enjoyable lives. Our longevity is not purely genetic – inherited factors account for only 30% of longevity. It is our health behaviour – that is, the choice of food, environment and physical activity that most importantly accounts for 70 percent of living longer. So our longevity is really in our own hands.

Improved healthcare and standards of living also mean we are seeing the growth of an active elderly population over the age of 65, and a new group of 85 years and older. Twenty percent of the world’s elderly population or 61 million people are 85+. By 2020, this group will double to 146 million. So if we are living longer we should all take preventative measures with out diet and exercise to ensure we not only live longer but that we are as happy and healthy as we can be.

So what causes ageing? The main causes of ageing and death are ageing of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular system), ageing of the immune system, and ageing caused by accidents and the environment.

Clogging of the arteries from a diet of highly saturated fat causes heart attacks and strokes. A weak immune system and environmental toxins may be the trigger for many forms of cancer and accidents that lead to early death.

But there are a number of factors that accelerate ageing. These are mainly lifestyle choices that we make that cut years off our natural lives and include: overeating and poor nutrition, smoking of whatever form, excessive alcohol intake, lack of exercise, lack of mental challenge, and feeling unloved or uncared for. Which is another reason why we should nurture the older members of our community.

The key to successful ageing is how well we can control these factors. Take control – see a doctor who can determine what measures you should be taking to improve your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and diet. Whether you need medication, sugery or special supplements. There are lists of experts on our site.

Doctors are learning more about how to extend human life through new discoveries such as stem cells. There are already a number of supplements available that can subsitute for the loss of hormones and other building blocks. One is human growth hormone (HGH) and another sex steroids. In theory, since HGH and testosterone (or estrogen) are responsible for the rapid growth and maturation in adolescence, replenishing them in old age will reverse the effects of ageing.

A recent study (Journal of the American Medical Association, November 2002), stated that combined HGH and sex steroids did just that – increased lean body mass and decreased fat in both men and women subjects. So is this the elixir of youth? Current research has not come up with the answer. There are long term risks and side-effects such as the increased risk of cancer with HGH. There is no one magic pill but there are a number of elixirs – elixir supplements, elixir antioxidents and elixir foods – which we can all take so that we can live life to the optimum. Even with the most serious diseases of ageing described below these elixirs can assist quality of life but their real value is in prevention. The aim of ElixirNews is to report on these new developments to help you make informed choices in living life to the optimum.