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Premature Aging May Indicate Heart Disease

In research presented at a recent meeting of the American Heart Association in Los Angeles, Danish scientists presented their findings from a 35-year study that sought to determine whether visible signs of aging were a better predictor of heart disease risk than the presence of physical symptoms that could only be detected with scientific tests. When asked to explain why she and her fellow scientists were examining these things, senior study author Anne-Tybjaerg-Hansen said, “The visible signs of aging reflect physiologic or biological age, not chronological age, and are independent of chronological age.” The scientists’ working hypothesis was that indications of premature aging might reveal more about a patient’s heart risk than had previously been assumed.

In the study, the researchers examined of 10,885 subjects (all over 40 years old at the start of the study, and 45% female) for visible signs of aging, and found that 7,537 of them had receding hairlines (frontoparietal baldness), 3,938 of them had crown top baldness, 3,405 of them had fatty buildups that created “earlobe creases,” and 678 had fatty deposits around their eyes. As if these visible signs of aging weren’t bad enough in themselves, over the 35-year duration of the study 3,401 of these visibly-aging subjects developed heart disease, and 1,708 of them had heart attacks.

The study’s findings suggested that both individually and combined, these signs of aging predicted heart disease as accurately as traditional risk factors such as age, sex, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and a family history of heart disease. A buildup of fatty deposits around the eyes was seen as the strongest individual predictor, leading to a 35% increased risk of heart attack in both men and women. Men with a receding hairline had a 40% higher risk.

But the strongest overall predictor was a combination of several of these signs of aging. The more of them a person had, the higher their risk of heart disease. And this risk increased with age; subjects over 70 who displayed three or four of the aging signs had a 40% chance of contracting heart disease over the next 10 years.

To balance these findings somewhat, the researchers found that other signs of aging – such as wrinkles and gray hair – had no significant link to increased heart risk.

It is important to put this research into perspective. First, the research was presented at a medical conference and have not yet been submitted to the peer review process required before a study is submitted for publication. Second, the researchers themselves point out that their findings do not constitute a definitive cause-and-effect relationship between these signs of aging and heart disease. They merely point out that “looking old for your age is a marker of poor [heart] health,” and that doctors should take a patient’s physical appearance into consideration when examining them. As one reviewer of the study, a cardiac specialist herself, put it, “Sometimes, doctors are so busy putting the blood pressure cuff on, and so on, that we forget to step back and take in the patient’s overall appearance. When I do, I notice that people having heart surgery look old for their age.”

In other words, if you look old, your heart may feel old. So looking for the signs of premature aging could become a valuable addition to every doctor’s bag of diagnostic tools. As professor Anne-Tybjaerg-Hansen puts it, “Checking these visible ageing signs should be a routine part of every doctor’s physical examination.

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Knowing the Difference Between Good and Bad Cholesterol

The word cholesterol is associated with mostly bad connotations, but what not everyone knows is that there are both good and bad types of cholesterol and getting the balance right is crucial to our well-being.

Good cholesterol, known also as HDL or “High-Density Lipo Protein”, is used by the body in order to clear other cholesterol and arterial plaques and carry them away from the major organs.

This then also clears blockages and improves blood pressure and lessens the likely hood of heart disease, heart attack or stroke. Good cholesterol is also used by the body in order to produce the crucial vitamin D as well as to digest fats. Some cholesterol is also required in order to give mammalian cells their density and consistency.

Bad cholesterol, on the other hand, also known as LDL or “Low-Density Lipoprotein”, has the opposite effect of blocking arteries. Over time excess cholesterol along with other waste products in the blood including fats can collect on the walls of the arteries causing them to become narrower and less flexible.

This can then obstruct the flow of blood and cause complications such as angina (chest pain). Eventually, these blockages can build up and form a clot which can cause either a heart attack or stroke.

There are also two other forms of bad cholesterol known as LD(a) and Triglycerides, these are less understood but are linked to LDL and correlated with heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and angina.

As there are many different types of cholesterol this must be taken into account when monitoring cholesterol levels; to completely eliminate cholesterol from the diet would be misguided. Furthermore, as the liver produces its own cholesterol, cholesterol levels can not be controlled by diet alone and have a genetic/familial aspect.

If your physician suspects you have high levels of cholesterol you will be subjected to a blood test or lipo profile which will indicate your cholesterol levels and exact ratio of LDL to HDL. Obviously here the aim is to have as high HDL as possible while maintaining low levels of LDL. Ideally, an individual should have a cholesterol level of 200 or below with 140 to 160 being made up of bad cholesterol and 40 to 60 consisting of good cholesterol.

Obviously the aim is to have as high HDL as possible while maintaining low levels of LDL. Ideally, an individual should have a cholesterol level of 200 or below with 140 to 160 being made up of bad cholesterol and 40 to 60 consisting of good cholesterol.

If it is found that a patient has undesirable high levels of bad cholesterol they will have to alter their diet and lifestyle accordingly. To reduce LDL, saturated fats and simple carbohydrates (such as sugar and sweets) should be limited. This includes butter, lard, oil, fries, burgers, takeaways, ready meals, cakes, biscuits and chocolate.

There are many small changes you can make to your diet such as removing the sugar from tea and oil from your cooking, which will immediately lower bad cholesterol. Other things that will exacerbate bad cholesterol include smoking, obesity, inactivity and excessive alcohol consumption. Thus losing weight and quitting smoking are fast ways to improve cholesterol as well as many other facets of health.

In addition to lowering bad cholesterol it is also important to focus on increasing good cholesterol which is often overlooked. One important diet change that will improve cholesterol is to increase consumption of fiber including citrus fruits, nuts, cereal bars, whole grain rice and bread, wheat’s and oats.

This lowers cholesterol by clearing out the intestinal and digestive tracts as well as improving bowel movements thus improving the body’s ability to dispose of excess cholesterol.

One of the most renowned foods for aiding cholesterol is garlic which works via both its high fiber content as well as its ability to combat bacteria. Diuretics and laxatives such as prunes, dried apricots’, tea, some mints and water, which again improve and encourage bowel movements. These diet changes will lower bad cholesterol and improve good cholesterol and affect the amount of each produced by the liver.

There are also various lifestyle changes that can increase HDL, exercise being one of the foremost. If after making recommended lifestyle changes high cholesterol levels still persist then doctors may advise a course in medications designed to help.

The most popular cholesterol medications are statins. Again these work to not only lower LDL but also to increase the liver’s production of HDL and have been shown to improve cholesterol levels by up to 60% making them the most effective form of prescription drug on the market.

Side effects include stomach cramps, stomach upsets, ab pain and nausea and in some rare instances statins can cause complications that damage the muscles and nerves. However, hopefully by adhering to the suggested alterations to your diet and lifestyle and focusing on raising good cholesterol as well as lowering bad cholesterol you should be able to make significant improvements naturally without pharmaceuticals.