Heart Disease

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Supplements No Substitute for Healthy Diet

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Bad news for vitamin-lovers: it appears they are not helping you prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD). A study carried out by the American Heart Association concluded that “the scientific data [does] not justify the use of antioxidant vitamin supplements for CVD risk reduction,” and that there is no consistent evidence which suggests that consuming micronutrients in higher amounts than those found in a balanced, healthy diet is beneficial in regards to CVD risk reduction.

What’s more, your vitamin supplements aren’t helping you prevent cancer, either, as outlined here by the American Cancer Society. Other organizations such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Family Physicians have reported similar findings. 

In most cases, vitamin supplements are not harmful, and the results of the latest research do not mean that supplements offer no benefits whatsoever. But if you are taking them to lower your risk of CVD or cancer, the newest evidence suggests that you are wasting your money.

There is currently no official recommendation on either taking or avoiding vitamin supplements for healthy individuals, with a couple of exceptions. One such exception involves beta carotene, which studies such as this one show can actually increase a smoker’s risk of lung cancer when taken in the high doses found in many supplements. This is in direct opposition to the previously popular belief that high doses of beta carotene were beneficial in cancer prevention.

What has been shown to have a beneficial effect on CVD and cancer risk is nutrition – a diet consisting of mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats, particularly seafood. A diet like this offers plenty of fiber, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients offer a number of health benefits, including weight control, blood pressure control, and heart disease and cancer prevention. What the new studies show is that if you are hoping that your vitamin supplements allow you a bit more leeway in your diet, you’re shortchanging yourself.

What about Prenatal Vitamins?

It’s important to note that these studies do not mean that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should toss all of their supplements. Folic acid should be taken to help prevent neural tube defects; the prenatal multivitamins prescribed by a woman’s doctor should be taken as directed. Also make sure your doctor knows about any vitamin supplements you are taking, because some can be harmful. High levels of vitamin A, for example, may be linked to birth defects.

And again, just because you are taking a prenatal vitamin – which you should if you are pregnant – does not mean your diet is not important. Healthy, natural foods contain many compounds not found in supplements, so a combination of prenatal vitamins and a healthy diet will help protect your baby as he or she develops.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Often Have Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors, Too

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism highlighted the relationship between polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Researchers noted that women with PCOS were more likely to have risk factors for CVD. They carried out a study in which evidence-based reviews were provided of studies that examined the risk relationship and to develop guidelines for lessening the risk of CVD.

The study included only other studies where PCOS patients were compared with control patients, and excluded any articles that included unclear PCOS diagnoses or unclear controls. The conclusion of the study was that women with PCOS who are also obese, smoke, or have high blood pressure or impaired glucose tolerance are at risk for CVD. Women who have PCOS and type 2 diabetes are at high risk for CVD.

PCOS is common, affecting 6-10% of women of childbearing age, and is characterized by hyperandrogenism, ovulatory dysfunction, and polycystic ovaries. Other symptoms that women may notice to varying degrees include irregular menstrual periods, hirsutism, acne or other skin problems, weight gain (especially around the waist), thinning hair, pelvis pain, sleep apnea, and anxiety or depression. In young women with PCOS, there may be multiple risk factors for CVD, such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, abdominal obesity, and high blood pressure. For these women, taking measures to prevent future CVD is an absolute necessity.

If you feel you may have PCOS, talk to your doctor about it. Your doctor will take some steps to see if you really do have PCOS or if another condition is causing your symptoms. Expect your doctor to ask you about your medical history, including your menstrual cycle and any weight changes; perform a physical exam, including blood pressure, waist size, and areas of increased hair growth; a pelvic exam, to check your ovaries for enlargement; a vaginal ultrasound, to further examine your ovaries; and blood tests to check for androgen and glucose levels in your blood.

If you do find out you have PCOS, even though there is no known cure, there are effective treatments that can help you manage your symptoms and prevent further problems. The right treatment for you will depend on your individual symptoms and whether or not you may become pregnant. Goals of treatment include lowering your risk for CVD and relieving your symptoms. A combination of treatments is the most effective route for most women.

The first line of defense against PCOS is losing weight. Eating healthfully and exercising can help you manage your symptoms with great success. Limiting sugars and processed foods will lower your blood glucose levels, improve the way your body uses insulin, and help normalize androgen levels. Even losing 10% of your body weight can make a big difference in irregular periods. If you don’t want to become pregnant, birth control pills can regulate your menstrual cycle, reduce your levels of male hormones, and help clear up your skin.

If you have diabetes, metformin is a drug your doctor may prescribe. It affects the way insulin is processed in your body and lowers male hormone production; it can also relieve many PCOS symptoms such as excessive hair growth, lowering cholesterol levels, and assisting with weight loss. It is important to note that metformin has not been approved by the FDA for treating PCOS, but it is approved and effective at treating diabetes, and studies show that it does, indeed, help with many common symptoms of PCOS.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Is Your Blood Type Bad for Your Heart?

Monday, August 20th, 2012

You probably already lament any risks for illness you inherited from your family’s gene pool, but unfortunately, there is now yet another concern to consider.  Your blood type may determine your risk for heart disease, which means yet another aspect of your life that you can’t control but that impacts your health.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health combined and analyzed information from two large and long-term studies.  These studies involved more than 90,000 people and at least two decades.  After taking into account age, gender, as well as other important factors, they found that people with Type O blood seemed to be at much less of a risk for heart disease than those with other blood types.  To be exact, their findings showed that people with Type B blood are 11% more likely to develop heart disease than those with Type O.  Type As had a 5% higher risk, and Type ABs were at the highest risk, being 23% more likely to suffer from a heart disease.  Their results are yet to be confirmed or explained, but some theories suggest it could have to do with varying levels of LDL and inflammation linked to certain blood types.

Unfortunately, we cannot change our blood type, so if you are in the higher risk categories, this study may cause some concern.  However, these results do not prove that you will definitely have heart disease if you have Type AB blood.  It only shows that you are more likely to suffer from it.  You can still control other factors such as your weight, exercise, and nutrition, which can do a lot towards preventing heart issues. Forewarned is forearmed.  So, if your blood type is one that places you at higher risk for heart disease, you will simply need to work harder to keep heart disease at bay.


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


A Family History of Heart Disease Doesn’t Have to Be Your Future

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Heart disease is a growing problem in America.  It is the leading cause of death in both men and women, and is even more of a problem for African Americans.  For many Americans the tendency towards heart disease runs in the family, and with their fast food addiction and sedentary lifestyles, the risk only increases.  Just because you may have a history of heart disease in your family though, doesn’t mean it’s a fate you have to suffer.

Jennifer Sedbrook, an OSF Cardiovascular Service Line Leader, says that “We can control all but two of the factors that affect heart disease; family history and age.”  OSF (Order of St. Francis) Healthcare is a nonprofit Catholic health care corporation that operates a medical group, hospital system, health plan, and other health care facilities in Illinois and Michigan.  According to OSF, There are other important factors which can also increase our risk though, and those include our BMI, or body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight.  It’s important to be aware of your body and to know each of these numbers, so that if there is a change, you can alert your doctor.  Additionally, if you know your body mass index and, consequently, weight are not where they should be, you can be proactive.  By eating healthy and committing to a regular exercise routine, you can drastically reduce your risk of heart disease.  This, along with controlling the amount of stress in your life, will decrease your cholesterol and blood pressure.

Ann Ripsom, one woman in a family of 7 siblings, has lowered her own risk factors by quitting smoking, joining Weight Watchers, and getting regular check-ups with her doctor.  She decided to get involved with the OSF Women’s Heart Ambassadors after losing three of her brothers to heart disease.  Three of her other siblings have also suffered from major heart issues.  Despite such an intense family history of heart problems, Ann does not show signs of the disease and is working to help others decrease their factors too.  She says that the most important thing to do is to take control of your risk factors and do not ignore signs your body may be giving you. In addition, people need to know the various symptoms of a heart attack, which can include chest pain, jaw pain, pain in either arm, nausea, sweating, disorientation, and fatigue.

More than 616,000 people died of heart disease in 2008 alone.  That accounted for 25% of the deaths in America that year.  By becoming educated about your risk factors, these kinds of deaths can be prevented.  Knowing this information and taking steps toward prevention is the most important thing you can do.  So find out what your numbers are, start eating healthy, and above all, get active.  Don’t let your family’s history determine your future.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.