Heart Disease

Food should show activity needed to burn off calories

Labels should be added to food and drink to show how much activity would be needed to burn off the calories consumed, the Royal Society for Public Health says.

Labels should be added to food and drink to show how much activity would be needed to burn off the calories consumed, the Royal Society for Public Health says.

It argues people underestimate the time it takes to exercise off calories in everyday products.

A mocha coffee containing 290 calories takes 53 minutes to walk off and a blueberry muffin takes 48 minutes.

A policy paper from the RSPH says the most common cause of obesity is consuming more calories than are burned off – and those taking lots of exercise are more likely to lose weight.

It says activity symbols on packs would prompt consumers to choose healthier options or exercise more.

Research shows that some consumers find current nutritional labels on the front of products confusing because of information overload.

They also spend just six seconds looking at food before buying it.

This means the information on the front of packs should be easy to understand and calorie information should be presented in a clear way, the paper said.

The RSPH says pictorial icons on the front of packs, as well as existing information, would be a good idea.

These pictures would show how much exercise is required to walk or run off the calories contained in the product.

The labelling would also remind the public of the importance of being physically active, which is known to boost mood, energy levels and reduce stress and depression.

A survey of 2,000 adults by RSPH found that more than 60% of people would support the introduction of “activity equivalent calorie labelling”.

More than half said it would encourage them to choose healthier products, eat smaller portions or do more physical exercise.

Men should consume around 2,500 calories and women 2,000 calories on average each day to maintain a healthy weight, the paper says.

Two thirds of adults in the UK are currently overweight or obese.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “Although nutritional information provided on food and drink packaging has improved, it is evident that it isn’t working as well as it could to support the public in making healthy choices.

“Activity equivalent calorie labelling provides a simple means of making the calories contained within food and drink more relatable to people’s everyday lives, while also gently reminding consumers of the need to maintain active lifestyles and a healthy weight.”

A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation said activity equivalent information was “an interesting concept” which was worth exploring.

“As an industry, we are looking at what more we can do to help people use the existing nutrition information provided to understand how different foods and drinks fit within a healthy lifestyle.

“We support RSPH’s call for further research into whether activity equivalent calorie labelling could be an effective way of encouraging consumers to use labels.”

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Are chilli peppers good for you?

Now research indicates that the chilli peppers may make our lives more interesting as well as also make them longer.

Now research indicates that the chilli peppers may make our lives more interesting as well as also make them longer.

We now know that chillies are also a good source of antioxidants. Forty-two grams of the spice would account for your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, although admittedly that would make for a pretty strong curry. They are also rich in vitamin A, as well as minerals such as iron and potassium.

Capsaicin has even been touted as a potential weight-loss tool. Research conducted this year by the University of Wyoming on mice that had been fed a high-fat diet found that the molecule increased metabolic activity in the animals, causing them to burn more energy and preventing weight gain. In another study, published last month in Plos One, researchers at the University of Adelaide found that the receptors in the stomach that interact with capsaicin play a role in sensing when we are full.

But what about heart disease and cancer? The recent study in China found a correlation between the consumption of spicy food and lower rates of death from those diseases – and laboratory research from the last 10 years suggests some possible reasons for that too.

In 2012, a team of nutritionists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, working with hamsters, found that capsaicin helped break down so-called “bad” cholesterol which might have clogged up the animals’ arteries, but it left alone the “good” cholesterol which helps remove it. There was a second benefit for cardiac health too – the capsaicin appeared to block the action of a gene that makes arteries contract, restricting blood flow.

Several studies have also indicated that capsaicin has powerful anti-cancer properties. It has been found to be helpful in fighting human prostate and lung cancer cells in mice, and there are also indications that it could be used as a treatment for colon cancer. It may also improve drug resistance for bile-duct cancer sufferers.

But before people make any radical changes to their diet, they are advised to wait for a clinical trial to be conducted using humans, not rodents.

“There are a lot of reports that say that capsaicin may be good for human health, especially with cancer,” says Zigang Dong at the Hormel Institute of the University of Minnesota. “However, there are other reports that show totally the opposite result.”

Dong is the co-author of a 2011 review, published in the journal Cancer Research, titled The Two Faces of Capsaicin, in which claims about the spice’s benefits for health are laid alongside a long list of counter-claims, pointing to negative effects.

The report details six studies on rats and mice in which the animals developed signs of cancer in the stomach or liver after their diet was changed to include more capsaicin. Meanwhile, studies examining the effects of capsaicin on the human stomach have delivered wildly divergent results. While one showed visible gastric bleeding after consumption of red pepper, another showed no abnormalities, even when ground jalapeno peppers were placed directly in the stomach.

“Probably it is harmful in the stomach or oesophagus because capsaicin itself can cause inflammation,” says Dong. “And if anything can cause inflammation or so-called burning effect, it must cause some cell deaths and therefore the long-term chronic inflammation is maybe harmful.”

Far from seeing the chilli’s piquancy as an evolutionary “trick” that we are clever enough to see through, as Joshua Tewksbury does, he sees it as a hint to eat the food in moderation – a hint that many of us are ignoring.

Capsaicin – and the chilli pepper – remains enigmatic. But whether it is a friend or foe, we’re exposing ourselves to it more and more. Between 1991 and 2011, global consumption of dry chillies increased by 2.5% per year, while our per capita intake increased by 130% in that time.

“There’s a worldwide huge consumption of this spice, or vegetable, or whatever you want to call it,” says Dong. “It’s consumed everywhere in the world. Therefore its impact is huge for human health.”

Capsaicin – a natural painkiller

Capsaicin creams and patches are available in chemists to ease pain. But it’s only in the past 20 years that we have come to understand the contradiction of how something that causes pain can ease it too.

Capsaicin binds to the pain receptor TRPV1, which our brains also use to detect changes in temperature – that’s why we think chillies are hot.

But after being over-stimulated the neurons stop responding, killing the pain. This process involves the release of endorphins, which can give us a “rush” not dissimilar from the feeling of having exercised well. This may explain why some people believe that hot food is addictive.

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Drinking three cups of coffee a day could help you live longer

Coffee is good for health and can protect against early death from a range of illness.

Coffee is good for health and can protect against early death from a range of illness.

Drinking three to five cups of coffee a day might help you live longer, according to new research.

Moderate coffee consumption reduces the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, and Type 2 diabetes, scientists found.

It also seems to lower the risk of suicide – but no association was seen with rates of cancer death.

“This study provides further evidence that moderate consumption of coffee may confer health benefits in terms of reducing premature death due to several diseases.” Professor Frank Hu, Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health

Whether or not the coffee drunk contained caffeine made no difference. The benefits are thought to be linked to other plant compounds in coffee besides the stimulant.

Lead scientist Ming Ding, from the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health in the US, said: “Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation. That could explain some of our findings. However, more studies are needed to investigate the biological mechanisms producing these effects.”

The results, published in the journal Circulation, are from a pooled analysis of three large on-going studies with a total of 208,501 male and female participants.

Coffee drinking was assessed using food questionnaires completed every four years for around 30 years.

Compared with less or no coffee drinking, moderate coffee consumption was associated with a significant reduced risk of death across a range of causes.

The analysis took into account other factors that could have influenced the results including smoking, body mass index (BMI), levels of physical activity, alcohol consumption and diet.

Co-author Professor Frank Hu, also from the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, said: “This study provides further evidence that moderate consumption of coffee may confer health benefits in terms of reducing premature death due to several diseases.”

Emily Reeve, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “It is important to remember that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is what really matters if you want to keep your heart healthy, not how much coffee you drink.

“Previous research suggests that drinking up to five cups of coffee a day is not harmful to your cardiovascular health, and this study supports that. But more research is needed to fully understand how coffee affects our body and what it is in coffee that may affect a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke.”

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Coffee is good for your heart

Drinking a few cups of coffee a day may help people avoid clogged arteries – a heart disease risk factor.

Drinking a few cups of coffee a day may help people avoid clogged arteries - a heart disease risk factor.Researchers studied more than 25,000 male and female employees who underwent routine health checks at their workplace.

Employees who drank a moderate amount of coffee – three to five cups a day – were less likely to have early signs of heart disease on their medical scans.

The findings reopen the debate about whether coffee is good for the heart.

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the effect of coffee on heart health- as some studies have linked consumption to heart risk factors, such as raised cholesterol or blood pressure, while others suggest the beverage may offer some heart protection.

But there is no conclusive evidence either way, and the latest research from South Korea, which is published in the journal Heart, only adds to the discussion.

In the study, the researchers used medical scans to assess heart health. Specifically, they were looking for any disease of the arteries supplying the heart – the coronary arteries.

In coronary heart disease, the coronary arteries become clogged by the gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls.

The scan the researchers used looks for tiny deposits of calcium in the walls of the coronary arteries to provide an early clue that this disease process may be occurring.

None of the employees included in the Korean study had outward signs of heart disease, but more than one in 10 of them were found to have visible calcium deposits on their scans.

The researchers then compared the scan results with the employees’ self-reported daily coffee consumption, while taking into account other potential heart risk factors such as smoking, exercise and family history of heart problems.

People who drank a few cups of coffee a day were less likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries than people who drank more than this or no coffee at all.

The study authors say more research is needed to confirm and explain the link.

Coffee contains the stimulant caffeine, as well as numerous other compounds, but it’s not clear if these might cause good or harm to the body.

So how much caffiene should one drink?

In the US, experts say up to 400mg a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. There is no recommended daily upper limit for caffeine consumption in the UK, except for pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, you should limit the amount of caffeine you have to 200mg a day – equivalent to two mugs of instant coffee.

Caffiene per serving:
  • one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
  • one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
  • one mug of tea: 75mg
  • one can of cola: 40mg
  • an espresso contains about 50mg of caffeine However, please note- coffee shop caffeine levels can vary widely.
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Sugar worse than salt claim health experts

Health experts claim avoiding sugar could be more important than avoiding salt when it comes to your healthy heart.

Sugar worse than salt claim health expertsScientists have clashed over claims that sugar may be worse for blood pressure and heart health than salt.

US experts say people need to place a greater focus on cutting sugar intake and suggest the benefits of lowering salt levels are “debatable.” Their arguments are published in the journal Open Heart.

But other researchers have said the claims are “disingenuous” and “scientifically unnecessary”. They maintain both need to be reduced.

Researchers from St Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, and Montefiore Medical Centre in the USA reviewed a selection of evidence from basic science experiments, animal studies and human research.

They came to the conclusion that sugar – particularly fructose – may play a stronger role in high blood pressure and other cardiac conditions than salt.

And they say lowering salt consumption under certain levels may do more harm than good as the research team suggests attempts to reduce salt in processed food may drive people to eat more.

The US experts focus on a particular type of sugar – added fructose – often found in processed foods and sugary beverages.

But they say naturally occurring sugars in whole foods, for example those in fruit and vegetables, are not a cause for concern.

Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in England suggests most adults and children eat more sugar than recommended.

The World Health Organization recommends sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day – this works out at about a maximum of 50g (1.7oz) of sugar for the average adult.

But the global health body recently acknowledged that halving this, to 5% of total energy intake per day, would have additional benefits.

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UK’s five big killers

Five big killers – heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung and liver disease – account for more than 150,000 deaths a year among under-75s in England alone and the Department of Health estimates 30,000 of these are entirely avoidable.UK's five big killersCoronary Heart Disease is the biggest killer, causing almost 74,000 deaths each year in the UK- that’s about 200 people dying every day.

More than a quarter of the deaths occur in people who are younger than 75 and experts say the majority are preventable.

Smoking, being overweight and having high blood pressure are all risk factors.

About one in three adults in England and Scotland have high blood pressure and nearly half of them are not receiving treatment for the condition, says the British Heart Foundation.

Between April 2011 and March 2012 only 2% of those eligible in England actually had a health check. Out of nearly 16 million people eligible, about 425,000 were offered a check and 211,000 took up the offer.

England has one of the highest rates of asthma prevalence in the world. Figures from GP registers in 2008 suggested that about 6% of the English population has asthma.

And more than three million people in England are living with COPD. This lung disease kills about 23,000 people a year in the UK.

The most important cause of COPD is smoking, but about 15% of cases are work-related, triggered by exposure to fumes, chemicals and dusts at work.

Premature deaths from COPD in the UK was almost twice as high as the European average in 2008 and premature mortality for asthma was more than 1.5 times higher.

The disease is one of the most common causes of emergency admission to hospital and is expensive in terms of acute hospital care. It costs nearly 10 times more to treat severe COPD than the mild disease.

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in England each year and the leading cause of disability. More than 150,000 people have a stroke every year in the UK but, according to The Stroke Association, up to 10,000 of these could be prevented if more people were aware of the symptoms and sought out emergency treatment.

Symptoms can include facial weakness, speech problems and pins and needles down one side of the body.

The Health Secretary Mr Jeremy Hunt says a major challenge is getting all parts of the country to meet the performance levels of the best.

For example, if all patients suffering from a mini stroke (transient ischaemic attack or TIA) were treated as rapidly as those treated in the top 25% of hospitals, 540 strokes would be avoided each year, which in turn would save the NHS £4.5m a year.

Cancer has now become so common that today one in 30 people living in the UK either has cancer or is in remission. By 2030 it is estimated that three million people in England will have had some form of cancer.

The good news is that cancer survival rates are now improving in the UK.

More men are now surviving prostate and bowel cancer and women with breast cancer have a better outlook than ever before. But the UK still lags behind other European countries in terms of cancer survival.

Cancer Research UK says part of the problem is unhealthy lifestyles. It is estimated that about a third of cancers are caused by smoking, diet, alcohol and obesity.

And many cancers are detected too late. Although there are national screening programmes for certain cancers, like breast and cervical, public awareness of symptoms and the need to seek help early is still too low.

Another issue is access to treatment. Waiting times to see a doctor for speedy diagnosis and treatment have come down. But the provision of certain types of cancer investigations and treatments across the UK is variable and some groups of society, like the very old, can miss out.

Lastly, the Chief Medical Officer of England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, highlighted liver disease as an issue in her annual report.

It is the only major cause of mortality and morbidity that is on the increase in England while it is decreasing among European peers.

Between 2000 and 2009, deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the under 65s in England increased by about 20% while they fell by the same amount in most EU countries. And all three major causes of liver disease – obesity, undiagnosed infection, and, increasingly, harmful drinking – are preventable.

More than a third of men and over a quarter of women regularly exceed the government recommended level of alcohol intake – three to four units of alcohol a day for men and two to three units for women.

The government in England is currently considering whether to set a minimum unit price for alcohol to deter problem drinking and cut alcohol-related illness.

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Smoking may worsen a hangover US research concludes

Smoking may worsen a hangover after drinking heavily US research concludes-  although the reason why is unclear.Smoking may worsen a hangover US research concludesResearchers asked 113 US students to keep a diary for eight weeks, recording their drinking and smoking habits and any hangover symptoms.

When they drank heavily- around six cans of beer an hour – those who also smoked suffered a worse hangover.

Addiction charities hope this study may motivate smokers to cut down over the festive season.

The study’s findings are reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

One of the paper’s authors, Dr Damaris Rohsenow, from the Centre for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University said: “At the same number of drinks, people who smoke more that day are more likely to have a hangover and have more intense hangovers.”

“And smoking itself was linked to an increased risk of hangover compared with not smoking at all.  That raises the likelihood that there is some direct effect of tobacco smoking on hangovers.”

The students from a Midwestern university in the US reported on the number of drinks consumed, number of cigarettes smoked and their hangover symptoms – which included if they felt more tired than usual, had a headache, felt nauseated and had difficulty concentrating.

The researchers then estimated blood alcohol concentration (BAC) which helped control for differences between sexes as it took into account weight and the period over which the student drank alcohol.

After analysing the results, the researchers found that smoking more heavily the day before increased the presence and severity of hangover the next day – but only after a heavy drinking episode, estimated at a BAC of 110mg/dl or greater – the equivalent of around six cans of beer an hour.

The reasons why are unclear- but the study suggests it may down to the toxicological and pharmacological effects of nicotine on the nervous system.

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Exercise could repair heart damage

Vigorous daily exercise could repair damage caused by a heart attack, a new study has suggested.Exercise could repair heart damageResearchers found for the first time that regular and strenuous exercise can make dormant stem cells in the heart spring into life, leading to the development of new heart muscle.

Scientists had already discovered that stem cells could be coaxed into producing new tissue through injections of chemicals known as growth factors, but the new study is the first to suggest that a simple exercise programme has a similar effect.

The findings suggest that damage from heart disease or failure could be at least partially repaired through 30 minutes of running or cycling a day, at enough intensity to work up a sweat.

An early-stage study on healthy rats showed that an equivalent amount of exercise resulted in more than 60 per cent of heart stem cells, which are usually dormant in adults, becoming active.

After just two weeks of exercise the mice had a seven per cent increase in the number of cardiomyocites, the “beating” cells in heart tissue, researchers reported in the European Heart Journal.

The team from Liverpool John Moores University said they would now study the effects on mice which had suffered heart attacks to determine whether it could have an even greater benefit.

Dr Georgina Ellison, who led the study, said: “The exercise is increasing the growth factors which are activating the stem cells to go on and repair the heart, and this is the first time that this potential has been shown.

“We hope it might be even more effective in damaged hearts because you have got more reason to replace the large amount of cells that are lost.”

Although some patients with severe heart damage may not be capable of intensive exercise, Dr Ellison said a significant number would easily be able to jog or cycle for 30 minutes a day without risking their health.

“In a normal cardiac rehabilitation programme patients do undertake exercise, but what we are saying is maybe to be more effective it needs to be carried out at a higher intensity, in order to activate the resident stem cells,” she said.

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Baggy eyes and baldness are heart attack signs

Bags around the eyes and baldness are telltale signs of being at a high risk of heart attack, a study has found.Baggy eyes and baldness are heart attack signsThey indicate the true “biological age” of a person rather than their numerical age, said Danish researchers.

They found that people who exhibited four key visual signs of ageing were 57 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack, they were also 39 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with any type of heart disease.

Hair loss of either type was not linked to an increased risk of heart disease or attack in women, however, it was in men. Those with receding hair had a 40 per cent higher chance of a heart attack than those without.

Professor Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, from Copenhagen University, said: “Checking these visible aging signs should be a routine part of every doctor’s physical examination.”

She and colleagues reached their conclusions by following the health of 10,885 people over 40, for a 35-year period. Almost half were women. Over that period, 3,401 developed heart disease and 1,708 had a heart attack.

They then looked at which participants exhibited four signs of visual ageing at the start of the study: yellow fatty deposits around the lower or upper eyelids; receding hairline at the temples; baldness at the crown of the head; and earlobe creases. Participants’ gender was taken into account when calculating the results.

Baggy eyelids were the strongest predictor of heart disease and heart attack. Called xanthelasmata by doctors, these markings are mostly made up of cholesterol.

The study Telltale visible signs of aging may predict heart disease was presented at the annual conference of the American Heart Association in Los Angeles.

Risks of heart disease and attack increased with each individual sign.

Prof Tybjaerg-Hansen said: “The visible signs of aging reflect physiologic or biological age, not chronological age, and are independent of chronological age.”

However, for those who look a little past their prime, the study also held good news. The researchers discovered that people with grey hair and wrinkles were no more at risk than those with smoother skin and more colourful locks.

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Antioxidant rich diet cuts heart attack risk

Eating lots of antioxidant rich fruit and vegetables does appear to cut the chance of having a heart attack according to research.Antioxidant rich diet cuts heart attack riskSwedish researchers estimate that eating a diet high in antioxidants – mainly derived from fruit and veg – could cut the chance of a heart attack by a quarter.

They believe that different antioxidant compounds could work together to protect the body in a much more powerful way than taking single large doses can achieve.

Specifically, the researchers found that older women ate seven fruit and vegetable portions a day, were between 20 and 29 per cent less likely to have a heart attack over a decade, than those who ate just 2.4.

Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances which mop up molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS), better known as ‘free radicals’.

These prompt inflammation, can damage cells, and have been implicated for triggering cancer and heart disease.

The researchers assessed antioxidant intake by looking at the diets of 30,000 Swedish women aged 49 to 83 at the start of the study.

Those with the highest antioxidant intake were 20 per cent less likely to have suffered a heart attack than those with the lowest intake, after statistically adjusting for a host of factors like differences in age, weight, and whether they smoked or exercised.

Women who ate a lot of fruit and vegetables also tended to eat less saturated fat. When the researchers adjusted for intake of fats, the difference in heart attack rates rose to 29 per cent. The study did not look at overall mortality.

Dr Alicja Wolk from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who was the lead researcher, said their research contrasted with tests of single antioxidant supplements, which have largely failed to find evidence that they cut heart attacks or mortality rates.

Pamela Hannley, managing editor of the American Journal of Medicine, where the report is published, said: “Although weight-loss diets abound, the few which emphasize increasing intake of fruits and vegetables actually may be on the right track.”

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