Long-term Heavy Drinking May Age Arteries Over Time

Heavy alcohol drinking habits over the years may prematurely age arteries, especially in men, putting them at an increased risk for heart disease, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

Drinking too much, can affect the elasticity of the arterial walls (arterial stiffness) and prematurely age the arteries, interfering with blood flow.

Moreover, researchers found that male former drinkers were at risk for accelerated rates of arterial stiffness compared with moderate drinkers who were in early old age. This observation was not found in females, although the study of 3,869 participants was 73 percent male.

The findings, which looked at alcohol drinking habits over a 25-year period, support previous research on moderate alcohol consumption and its association with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. The question is how much alcohol is too much and at what point does alcohol start to cause damage to the arteries?

Participants ranged in age at the initial alcohol assessment from their 30s to their 50s, with statistical adjustment made for age (amongst other characteristics) in the study’s analyses, and anyone with a history of heart disease were excluded from the study. Few of the participants were current smokers, however 68 percent of the men and 74 percent of women failed to meet recommended weekly exercise guidelines. Among both men and women, one in 10 had Type 2 diabetes. Men were more likely to be heavy drinkers compared with women; however, there were twice as many stable nondrinkers and former drinkers among the women than the men.

Researchers compared data about participants’ alcohol consumption with carotid-femoral pulse wave artery velocity (PWV) measurements, or pulse waves between the main arteries found in the neck and thigh. The greater the velocity, the stiffer the artery. Alcohol intake was measured periodically across 25 years and the researchers subsequently looked at how those long-term intake patterns were associated with pulse wave velocity and its progression over a 4-to-5-year interval.

Consistent long-term, heavy drinking was defined in this U.K. study as more than 112 grams (3.9 ounces) of ethanol per week (roughly equivalent to one serving of alcoholic spirit, half a pint of beer, or half a glass of wine.); consistent moderate drinking was 1-112 grams of ethanol per week.

The American Heart Association defines moderate alcohol consumption as an average of one to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits. Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk for alcohol dependency, cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure and obesity, stroke, certain types of cancer, suicide and accidents.

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide, contributing to nearly one-third of deaths, researchers said.

How alcohol may impact arterial health is unclear, said Darragh O’Neill, Ph.D., lead study author and epidemiological researcher at University College London. “It’s been suggested alcohol intake may increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels — the good cholesterol — or decrease platelet stickiness. Conversely, heavier alcohol intake may activate certain enzymes that would lead to collagen accumulation, which could, in turn exacerbate the rate of arterial stiffening.”

“Based on these findings, the research team wants to look at multiple groups of people — since this study was limited to a single group that was mostly male — and identify the relationship that drinking patterns over time have with other indicators of cardiovascular disease.” O’Neill said

Source: American Heart Association


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Findings Suggest Causal Association between Abdominal Fat and Development of Type 2 Diabetes, Coronary Heart Disease

A genetic predisposition to higher waist-to-hip ratio adjusted for body mass index (a measure of abdominal adiposity [fat]) was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, according to a study appearing in the February 14 issue of JAMA.

Obesity, typically defined on the basis of body mass index (BMI), is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease (CHD). However, for any given BMI, body fat distribution can vary substantially; some individuals store proportionally more fat around their visceral organs (abdominal adiposity) than on their thighs and hip. In observational studies, abdominal adiposity has been associated with type 2 diabetes and CHD. Whether these associations represent causal relationships remains uncertain.

Sekar Kathiresan, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues examined whether a genetic predisposition to increased waist-to-hip ratio adjusted for BMI was associated with cardiometabolic quantitative traits (i.e., lipids, insulin, glucose, and systolic blood pressure), type 2 diabetes and CHD.

Estimates for cardiometabolic traits were based on a combined data set consisting of summary results from 4 genome-wide association studies conducted from 2007 to 2015, including up to 322,154 participants, as well as individual-level, cross-sectional data from the UK Biobank collected from 2007-2011, including 111,986 individuals.

The researchers found that genetic predisposition to higher waist-to-hip ratio adjusted for BMI was associated with increased levels of quantitative risk factors (lipids, insulin, glucose, and systolic blood pressure) as well as a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and CHD.

“These results permit several conclusions. First, these findings lend human genetic support to previous observations associating abdominal adiposity with cardiometabolic disease,” the authors write.

“Second, these results suggest that body fat distribution, beyond simple measurement of BMI, could explain part of the variation in risk of type 2 diabetes and CHD noted across individuals and subpopulations. … Third, waist-to-hip ratio adjusted for BMI might prove useful as a biomarker for the development of therapies to prevent type 2 diabetes and CHD.”

Source: EurekAlert!


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A Big Change to the Sell-by Dates on Food is Coming in the U.S.


Enlarge image . . . . .

Caitlin Dewey wrote . . . . .

The majority of Americans have no clear idea what “sell by” labels are trying to tell them. But after 40 years of letting us guess, the grocery industry has made moves to clear up the confusion.

On Wednesday, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the two largest trade groups for the grocery industry, announced that they’ve adopted standardized, voluntary regulations to clear up what product date labels mean. Where manufacturers now use any of 10 separate label phrases, ranging from “expires on” to “better if used by,” they’ll now be encouraged to use only two: “Use By” and “Best if Used By.”

The former is a safety designation, meant to indicate when perishable foods are no longer good. “Best if Used By” is a quality descriptor — a subjective guess of when the manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed for peak flavor.

That’s what most “use-by” dates indicate now, though studies have shown that many consumers believe they signal whether a product is okay to eat. In fact, it’s totally fine to eat a product even well after its so-called expiration date.

These dates typically indicate one of two things: a message from the manufacturer to the grocery store, telling the store when the product will look best on shelves, or a subjective measure — often little more than a guess — of when consumers will most “enjoy” the product. Methods for setting those dates have been left to manufacturers, rather like the phrasing of the labels themselves. But when consumers see a date labeled “use by” (or, even worse, not labeled at all) they often tend to assume that it’s a food-safety claim, regulated by some objective standard.

Both the Department of Agriculture and a coalition of environmental groups have been urging the industry to clear this up. In addition to costing average Americans, in the form of prematurely tossed groceries, the waste represents a significant use of landfill space and source of greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think it’s huge. It’s just an enormous step,” said Emily Broad-Leib, the director of Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. “It’s still a first step — but it’s very significant.”

The best solutions to food waste

The eight methods that will divert the most tons of waste, according to an analysis by the ReFED coalition.

Advocates and environmentalists have been warning for years that many people interpret date labels as a sign that food is no longer good to eat. As a result, one industry survey found, 91 percent of consumers have mistakenly thrown away past-date food, when the label only signals the manufacturer’s guess at its peak quality.

Shoppers shouldn’t expect to see the new labels the next time they buy groceries; the change won’t be immediate. While FMI and GMA are urging manufacturers and retailers to make it now, they have until July 2018. Even then, the standards are voluntary, so there’s no guarantee that they’ll be adopted by every single company.

Some states also have labeling regulations that preempt the industry standards. In Montana, for instance, milk must come with a “sell by” label. That means milk in the state will still say “sell by,” even if every other product gets the new labels.

Still, a number of major manufacturers have already signaled their enthusiasm, including Walmart, the largest seller of American groceries. And both FMI and GMA are expecting to see widespread adoption, in part because the standards were written by a working group comprised of representatives from large food companies.

The voluntary standards are also a way to influence, or preempt, pending federal regulation; there has been growing interest in a federal standard for label dates, which would both align the contradictory patchwork of state rules and guarantee corporate compliance. Last May, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) introduced legislation that would standardize both date labels and food donation laws. They’re expected to reintroduce the bill in the coming weeks. In mid-December, the USDA also published nonbinding guidance that encouraged manufacturers to switch to the “Best if Used By” phrasing.

This all delights Broad-Leib, who made similar policy recommendations in a 2013 report with the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to NRDC, Americans throw $218 billion worth of food away each year. The anti-food-waste coalition ReFED estimates that 398,000 tons, or $1.8 billion, could be saved through standardized date labels.

Of course, that is just a drop in the waste bucket: To make a real dent in America’s food waste problem, Broad-Leib said, more will have to be done. The Food Law and Policy Clinic is arguing for several federal interventions, including policy changes that make it easier for companies and farms to donate food and incentives to encourage them to do so. [Some of this appears in the Food Donation Act of 2017, which Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) introduced a week ago.]

Broad-Leib would also like to see the Department of Agriculture designate more funds for local composting and anaerobic facilities, as well as education campaigns for consumers. NRDC and the Ad Council are currently running one such campaign, called “Save the Food.”

After all, Broad-Leib points out, if Americans don’t understand food waste the new labels won’t help. And ultimately, neither will anything else.

Source: The Washington Post

Gluten-free Diet May Increase Risk of Arsenic, Mercury Exposure

Sharon Parmet wrote . . . . .

People who eat a gluten-free diet may be at risk for increased exposure to arsenic and mercury – toxic metals that can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurological effects, according to a report in the journal Epidemiology.

Gluten-free diets have become popular in the U.S., although less than 1 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease – an out-of-control immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

A gluten-free diet is recommended for people with celiac disease, but others often say they prefer eating gluten-free because it reduces inflammation – a claim that has not been scientifically proven. In 2015, one-quarter of Americans reported eating gluten-free, a 67 percent increase from 2013.

Gluten-free products often contain rice flour as a substitute for wheat. Rice is known to bioaccumulate certain toxic metals, including arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil, or water, but little is known about the health effects of diets high in rice content.

Maria Argos, assistant professor of epidemiology in the UIC School of Public Health, and her colleagues looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey searching for a link between gluten-free diet and biomarkers of toxic metals in blood and urine.

They found 73 participants who reported eating a gluten-free diet among the 7,471 who completed the survey, between 2009 and 2014. Participants ranged in age from 6 to 80 years old.

People who reported eating gluten-free had higher concentrations of arsenic in their urine, and mercury in their blood, than those who did not. The arsenic levels were almost twice as high for people eating a gluten-free diet, and mercury levels were 70 percent higher.

“These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet,” Argos said. “But until we perform the studies to determine if there are corresponding health consequences that could be related to higher levels of exposure to arsenic and mercury by eating gluten-free, more research is needed before we can determine whether this diet poses a significant health risk.”

“In Europe, there are regulations for food-based arsenic exposure, and perhaps that is something we here in the United States need to consider,” Argos said. “We regulate levels of arsenic in water, but if rice flour consumption increases the risk for exposure to arsenic, it would make sense to regulate the metal in foods as well.”

Source: University of Illinois


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Heart Disease Can Also Affect Your Feet, Kidneys and Brain

In February, American Heart Month raises awareness about heart disease. But “heart disease” is a catch-all term that refers to numerous problems, many of which are related to hardening of the arteries.

Hardening of the arteries doesn’t just happen in the heart, noted Dr. Ali AbuRahma, secretary of the Society for Vascular Surgery, it happens all over the body. The progressive disease, also known as arteriosclerosis, causes plaque to start clogging up the arteries, making it more difficult for oxygen-rich blood to flow throughout the body. That is bad for the heart, but also dangerous for the legs, feet, kidneys and the brain.

Arteriosclerosis usually doesn’t affect every blood vessel uniformly, Dr. AbuRahma said. In most people with arteriosclerosis, there will be a general hardening of the arteries throughout the body, but some arteries will have more plaque than others.

When this disease gets worse in the legs and feet, it is called peripheral arterial disease, also known as PAD. Unfortunately, PAD is very common in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 8.5 million Americans have PAD, including up to 20 percent of those older than 60. When not enough oxygen-rich blood is pumping through the legs and feet, the feet may develop wounds that won’t heal. In advanced cases, patients may face amputation.

Hardening of the arteries may have no symptoms at all until the disease has become advanced. However, some people may have leg pain when they walk, a symptom of PAD. These patients should inform their physician, who may order a painless, non-invasive test called an ankle-brachial Doppler test that measures the blood pressure in the ankles.

The good news is that hardening of the arteries is manageable.

“We recommend that everyone take a few sensible health measures to keep their veins and arteries healthy,” said Dr. AbuRahma. “First, know your ‘numbers,’ that is, manage your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Don’t smoke and get regular physical activity. Try to lower your stress level, too.”

For those whose disease has advanced, there is still hope, he added.

“Vascular specialists are trained to restore blood flow,” he said, “but most of our long-term patients never need anything other than medication and good health habits. But if non-invasive treatments no longer work, we can install minimally invasive balloons or stents to unblock blood vessels, or perform open procedures, in which we create bypasses around a blocked artery.”

Those who have vascular disease should be under the care of a vascular specialist for the rest of their lives, he added. “But if you want to live to be a healthy old age, the best thing you can do is to really follow your doctor’s orders. Don’t tune it out when your doctor repeats advice you may have heard before. Knowing your numbers, exercising and not smoking can make a world of difference.”

Source: The Society for Vascular Surgery


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