February is American Heart Month (the same month as Valentines' Day - makes sense!). Are you aware that heart disease continues to be the #1 killer in the United States? Some risk factors are not under our control: we can't alter our genetics, gender, age, race, or ethnicity. Lifestyle, on the other hand, is largely our choice: each of us decides whether or not we smoke, exercise, eat well, and maintain a healthy weight.An enormous amount of research continues to be dedicated to cardiovascular disease. What do recent studies reveal? *A positive mental attitude results in a greater chance that we will exercise and live longer. According to researchers from Denmark, a positive mood has been linked to a better prognosis in patients with heart disease. A cheerful and happy temperament can actually be preventive! *Eating breakfast every day can help to reduce the risk of heart attack or dying from heart disease. Note that this study eliminated other factors such as smoking, sleep habits, exercise and alcohol use. *Red meat is simply not good for the heart; throughout years of research, this has not changed. The latest studies find that l-carnitine is the culprit. Red meat contains l-carnitineto bacteria, which remain in our gut. In mice, this leads to atherosclerosis, which is the disease that leads to clogged arteries, heart disease, and then heart attacks. Confusingly, taking L-carnitine supplements may help heart attack survivors reduce the chance of dying prematurely or reduce the symptoms of heart disease. Research is still ongoing, but what has long been clear is that red meat's calories and saturated fats do harm to the heart. The same is true of processed meats, including bacon, sausage, and salami. *Processed carbohydrates have been found to increase the rate of obesity, diabetes and heart disease even more than saturated fats! We Americans have dutifully reduced our saturated fat consumption, but obesity rates have continued to climb, diabetes rates have skyrocketed, and heart disease rates remain at the top of the mortality charts. We all know what processed carbs are, but here is a partial list for those who need a reminder: cookies, cakes, muffins, pancakes, waffles, pies, candy, chocolate, breaded or battered foods, most breads, most crackers, most cereals (except for unsweetened, 100% and whole grain), most pasta, bagels, pretzels, pizza, potato chips, puddings and custards, corn chips, caramel corn, jello, jellies, granola bars, tortillas, white rice and corn cakes, ketchup, and sweetened sodas. *This is not the '50s. We are all fully aware that cigarette smoking is an extremely significant and well-documented risk factor for heart disease. The latest research shows that the heart can recover more quickly than we used to think: for those who smoked fewer than 3.2 packs of cigarettes per day for 10 years, the benefits of quitting smoking could kick in as soon as eight years after stopping. * Cold weather (indirectly) raises the risk of heart disease! High cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference are higher in the winter months than the summer months. The prescription is obvious: stay put in sunny Southern California. *Exercise helps to lower high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes risk. Walking works as well as running does, as long as the same energy is expended. Think about it: walking at a slower rate of speed than running, but for a longer time, will give equivalent results. Get your walking to the point where your heart is a little fast and your breath is a little short. * Studies continue to show an association between stress and heart attacks. One study showed a link between levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) found in the hair of the elderly, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Another demonstrated an association between job loss and stress-related heart attacks. In honor of 2014's American Heart Month, let's each select just one of the risk categories I've discussed here, and make a deliberate and positive change for the better! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: Feb. 27, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 46