Heart Headlines

by | Jul 5, 2014 | Articles, Conditions, Heart

Chocolate good for heart and brain

Leave it to the French to present results of a new study showing that chocolate is good for the heart and brain. From Paris, France, investigators are reporting that individuals who ate the most chocolate had a 37% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 29% lower risk of stroke compared with individuals who ate the least amount of chocolate.

“These favorable effects seem mainly mediated by the high content of polyphenols present in cocoa products” conclude researchers. The polyphenols are a group of plant based compounds found in fruits, vegetables and cocoa beans. Having potent anti-oxidant properties, polyphenols are well known to be good for blood vessels. Their benefits are likely due in part to keeping the quickly oxidized but artery friendly “nitric oxide” more active. Made by the endothelial cells that line the arteries, nitric oxide is the compound that controls artery relaxation and thus blood pressure and circulation.

The benefits of cocoa to the endothelial cells might subsequently lead to improvements in endothelial function, reductions in blood clotting, and additional beneficial effects on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and blood cholesterol.

Researchers did not discriminate between types of chocolate, including dark, milk and white chocolate in the studies. Chocolate in any form was included, such as chocolate bars, chocolate drinks, and chocolate snacks, such as confectionary, biscuits, desserts, and nutritional supplements.

Heart healthy foods lower cholesterol more than low-saturated-fat diet

A diet rich in foods with proven heart-healthy benefits is significantly better than a diet low in saturated fat for reducing LDL-cholesterol levels in patients with high cholesterol, according to the results of a new study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association”. The “dietary portfolio” of cholesterol-lowering foods reduced LDL-cholesterol levels by 26 mg/dL, nearly as large a reduction as was observed in some of the earliest statin trials, according to researchers.

The four major components of the dietary portfolio are foods that are recognized for their ability to lower serum cholesterol levels. These include soy proteins, sticky types of fibers like oats, barley, and psyllium, vegetables, viscous fibers, nuts, and plant sterols. Researchers basically looked for ways in which these components were enriched in foods obtainable from the supermarket and encouraged people with support and help to look after themselves.

Patients in the study were put on the “dietary portfolio” diet or a standard low-saturated-fat diet for 6 months. Those in the dietary portfolio group have been shown to reduce serum LDL-cholesterol levels by 13%, while the low-saturated-fat group showed only 3% reductions. Furthermore, the dietary portfolio group did just as well with a few simple dietary counseling sessions as they did with intensive counseling, suggesting this type of intervention would be quite manageable in a typical doctor-patient visit.

A side-note on soy is worth mention. I do not recommend unfermented sources of soy, such as tofu or soy milk/burgers/ice cream, due to disturbing effects on thyroid function and disruption of estrogen balance. Instead, choose healthy fermented sources such as tempeh, miso and natto.

First study to quantify benefits of exercise on heart disease risks

The first study to specifically examine the relationship between the amount of physical activity and risk reduction for coronary heart disease (CHD) has found that those engaging in the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week – consistent with federal guidelines – had a 14% lower CHD risk, and those who achieved 300 minutes per week had a 20% lower risk of CHD, compared with those who were sedentary. Exercising 750 minutes per week resulted in a 25% lower risk of CHD.

This study confirms that even a little bit of physical activity is beneficial and more is better, but the greatest benefit occurs when going from no activity to some activity. The majority of the population in the US is inactive, so if you start by doing something, that’s a great first step, and you’ll start to realize the benefits. If you’re doing nothing, you don’t have to go to the extreme to realize benefits – even walking briskly for 15 minutes a day was associated with a significant reduction in CHD risk.

High levels of pollution “bring forward” heart attacks

A new study from the “British Medical Journal” suggests that high levels of air pollution don’t increase the overall risk of heart attack but can induce a heart attack that was bound to happen at a later time.

This unique study showed that the increased death rates that are well established in areas of high air pollution are not due to increases in heart attacks. However, if one has heart disease it is recommended to avoid high traffic areas.

Healthier lifestyle improves erectile dysfunction

Healthier eating habits and increased physical activity lead to an improvement in erectile dysfunction (ED), according to a new study from the “Archives of Internal Medicine”.

Men don’t sit around worrying about heart disease, but they do worry about not being able to have sex and getting Alzheimer’s. Erectile dysfunction is an early predictor of artery disease that often leads to heart disease and dementia. Basic lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, eating more fruits and vegetables, and losing weight have been shown to help ED. Exercise in particular is associated with improvement in ED showing positive results similar to the prescription drugs such as Viagra.

So there you have it. Doctors need to counsel patients to eat more fruits and vegetables, enjoy chocolate, and get even a modest amount of exercise, preferably in clean fresh air and not polluted high traffic areas. Lastly, we need to engage men in a discussion about preserving sex while preventing dementia if we hope to have much impact on changing heart disease risk behavior!


Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine.  He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions.  He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com).   Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.

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