Posts Tagged ‘Stroke’

A Healthy Lifestyle Protects Best Against Stroke, Study Finds

June 20th, 2014 at 6:04 pm by timigustafson

Of course, you knew already that you should eat right, exercise regularly, not smoke, and not drink too much alcohol. Now a new study from Germany found even more evidence that you are well advised to follow these guidelines. In fact, your life could depend on it. Among countless other health benefits, people who maintain a healthy lifestyle have a significantly reduced risk of stroke, the study concluded.

stroke occurs when one of the arteries carrying blood from the heart to the brain is either blocked or bursts. As a result, part of the brain does not get the blood it needs, and starts to die. When this happens, the brain either temporarily or permanently malfunctions, depending on the severity of the damage that has been caused.

While previous studies honed in on individual risk factors for stroke, this one looked at the effects of an overall health-promoting lifestyle. Conversely, by analyzing the combined risks from less health-conducive behavior, a more complete picture emerges of what may actually lead to a stroke and how it could be prevented, the researchers suggested.

After reviewing medical data from nearly 24,000 people, and analyzing each person’s stroke-related risk factors, the researchers found that improving diet and lifestyle choices could significantly lower the number of strokes that occur every year.

“Our combined risk factor analysis indicated that about 38 percent of primary stroke occurrences could have been prevented in our study population if all study participants had maintained the healthiest risk profile,” said Kaja Tikk, an epidemiologist at the Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, Germany, and lead author of the study report, to Reuters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 800,000 people suffer a stroke per year in the United States alone.

The most significant contributors to stroke-related risks were found to be smoking and weight problems. Fortunately, these are areas in their lives where people have a great deal of control, said Ms. Tikk. Weight loss and smoking cessation can be done successfully by the individual, and taking such steps has almost immediate benefits.

For instance, while smoking effectively doubles the risk of stroke compared to not smoking, most ex-smokers can return to risk levels similar to lifetime non-smokers after a relatively short period of time.

The same is true for weight loss. Staying within (or returning to) a normal weight range, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly to keep the weight off rank among the best measures for stroke prevention, according to the CDC.

In terms of healthcare, prevention of stroke should be considered a priority. And, as this study shows, it can be achieved by maintaining a healthy lifestyle pattern, Ms. Tikk said.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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It’s a proven fact that most people change their eating habits and lifestyle choices only after a serious health scare such as a heart attack or a diabetes diagnosis. Still, in many cases that may not be enough. Old habits tend to die hard, but often there are also not many alternatives to what they’ve been doing in terms of eating right and taking care of themselves.

A recent study found that most consumers after being confronted with a major health crisis were still influenced in their choices by factors other than what’s good for their health. For example, people can find it difficult to change their long established eating habits, says Dr. Yu Ma, an economics professor at Alberta School of Business and author of the study. Another highly influential factor is price, he says. If they get a good deal on a particular item, they will go for it, and if it’s too expensive, they will stay away, no matter how much they would benefit healthwise.

Another issue is what he calls the “health halo effect.” Most people divide foods simply into two categories: healthy and unhealthy, he says. If something is considered healthful, e.g. a salad or a breakfast cereal, as opposed to a cheeseburger or a sugar-laden donut, people tend to overindulge in the “healthy” stuff without much further thought. We have seen that phenomenon when, for example, fat-free cookies came on the market and many believed they could consume those in almost unlimited quantities because of the absence of fat. Of course, eliminating the fat did not make those cookies less caloric, and the results became apparent soon thereafter.

Another study, this one on heart attack and stroke patients, showed that nearly 15 percent did not alter their eating and lifestyle habits after the incident, including poor diet choices, lack of exercise and smoking. Less than half of all participants in the study reported having made at least one change, and less than a third said they made several improvements. Only 4 percent claimed they did everything that was recommended to them to prevent further deterioration of their health.

Much of the unwillingness or inability to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices can be blamed on the widespread confusion among the public due to the ceaseless onslaught of sometimes contradictory messages in the media about health matters. In addition, many of the warnings issued by experts are hard to heed by consumers who are oftentimes ignorant, if not intentionally kept in the dark, about the nutritional quality of their food supply. For instance, recommendations to avoid high fat, salt and sugar content may be well-meaning, but they are by and large useless when ingredients lists are hard to decipher or when restaurants aren’t required to follow any dietary guidelines or to post nutritional information on their menus.

“I think people are interested in making changes and they are heeding the warnings,” said Dr. Sara Bleich, an associate professor of health policy at the John Hopkins School of Public Health to NBCNews. “But when it comes to food, it’s much more complicated. Cereal, for example, has a tremendous amount of added sugar. And not everyone understands that breakfast foods like muffins and pastry, things that people don’t consider to be a dessert or an indulgence, pack a lot of sugar.” Similar concerns apply to salt in countless processed foods, many of which don’t even taste salty, and certain types of fats, some of which are obscured by arbitrary serving descriptions on food labels.

Undoubtedly, more and more people want to be better informed about nutritional health and be empowered to make the right choices. With growing consumer demand for further regulation and protection, that may be feasible over time. But for now, it’s an ongoing uphill battle, and most of us have to fend for ourselves as well as we can.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Less salt in our food supply could save at least half a million Americans from dying prematurely over the next ten years, according to separate studies conducted at three universities, two American and one Canadian. If the average daily salt intake were to drop to 1,500 milligrams, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the number of lives saved could more than double. All study results were published in the medical journal Hypertension, a publication of the American Heart Association (AHA).

Americans currently consume on average 3,600 milligrams of salt daily, mostly in form of sodium, widely used as an ingredient in processed foods. Sodium is considered a significant contributor to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke, all leading causes of death in the U.S. today.

About a third of American adults, or 68 million, suffer from high blood pressure, a.k.a. hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The condition was identified as a primary or contributing cause of nearly 350,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2008, the last time the CDC has updated its research on the subject.

Despite of these alarming statistics, there are currently no signs of improvement. Even better treatment has only shown mixed results. Less than half (46 percent) of high blood pressure patients have their condition under control, according to the CDC.

Because the salt content in processed food is already added before it reaches the consumer, there is little opportunity to make changes on an individual basis other than limiting one’s choices to fresh items like produce. This would also exclude many options in restaurants.

“Individuals can’t make this choice easily,” said Dr. Kirstin Bibbins-Domingo, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to ABC News. “So maybe we should find ways to work with the food industry,” she suggested.

The National Salt Reduction Initiative, a partnership started by the New York City Health Department that has expanded to nearly 100 city and state health organizations across the country, has been trying to get food manufacturers and restaurant operators to cut salt by 25 percent or more since 2008, the year of the organization’s inception. The current goal is to achieve a reduction of 20 percent by 2014.

Critics say that such measures are impractical and would make little difference. Public health advocates have been focusing on hypertension as if no other health threats existed, said Morton Satin, Vice President of science and research at the Salt Institute, a trade association for the salt industry, in response to the recent studies to ABC News. The association warns that low salt intake could produce its own set of health problems, especially for the elderly.

While most experts would agree that multiple factors can be responsible for the development of high blood pressure, including genetic predisposition, gender, age and other non-modifiable components, poor diet and lifestyle choices, which are modifiable and therefore preventable risk factors, usually play a much greater role. In a milestone conference on the connections between sodium intake and blood pressure, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the participating scientists concluded that “an abundance of scientific evidence indicates that higher sodium consumption is associated with higher levels of blood pressure, [as demonstrated in] animal studies, observational epidemiologic studies, and clinical studies and trials.” They were also hopeful that more effective strategies could be developed to improve diet and lifestyles patterns that benefit the larger population.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading: “Too Much Salt in Our Food Creates Serious Health Hazards.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Heart Health Month – An Important Reminder

February 8th, 2012 at 1:38 pm by timigustafson

February is “Heart Health Month.” Health advocacy groups and organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA), the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) want to remind us that heart disease is the most common cause of death in America and deserves more of our attention.

Sadly, heart disease has become nothing short of a national crisis in this country. “Heart disease takes the lives of far too many people in this country,” said Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “With more than two million heart attacks and strokes a year, and 800,000 deaths, just about all of us have been touched by someone who has had heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke.”

Heart disease is also very expensive to treat. Cardiovascular disease and stroke hospitalizations have cost nearly $450 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity in 2010 alone.

“The sad truth is that these ailments are usually preventable, and in a perfect world I would be out of a job,” said Mehmet Oz, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon and host of “The Dr. Oz Show.” “Unfortunately, I’m busier than ever,” he added.

Raising awareness is a crucial way to fight back against the spreading disease. In 2011, the HHS, in collaboration with the CDC and other government agencies as well as private organizations, has launched a program named “Million Hearts,” a nationwide initiative aimed at preventing one million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years. Among its many goals, the program wants to “empower Americans to make healthy choices,” such as avoiding tobacco use and reducing the amount of sodium and trans fat they eat, and to “improve care for people who need treatment” by encouraging them to take steps to better control their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

“Million Hearts” is not the only awareness movement in the country. “Go Red for Women” is a nationwide program by AHA “to fight heart disease as the number one killer of women in America.” Observers can express their support by wearing red clothing or pins. “Choose to Move” is another AHA project dedicated to women’s heart health through physical exercise.

Sending the right messages is vitally important, especially for women, said Dr. Oz. “Many women and their health care providers believe that heart disease is less serious in women than in men. This is simply not true. Studies show that more women than men die within a year of having a first heart attack. Women are two to three times more likely than men to die following heart-bypass surgery, and more women than men die each year from congestive heart failure.

In fact, women may suffer from a completely different type of heart disease than men, according to Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, which is not yet fully understood and harder to detect, and therefore can often remain undiagnosed until it is too late.

The good news is that there are only a few causes of heart disease that are out of our control, such as genetic predisposition, family history and aging. The rest is a matter of choice. Even small lifestyle improvements can make a significant difference. Weight control, good nutrition, regular exercise and stress reduction are all part of that. Each one of these is fully achievable for everyone with enough commitment and willingness to make the necessary efforts. Raising awareness is a good start, but it doesn’t end there.

For more information on heart-healthy living, please go to the “Eating Smart for a Healthy Heart“  section of the “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” blog.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

About Timi Gustafson, R.D. As a clinical dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and, as of late, blogger, she has been able to reach millions of people, addressing their concerns about issues of health, lifestyle and nutrition. As Co-founder and Director of Nutrition Services for Cyberdiet.com (now Mediconsult.com), she created the first nutrition-related interactive website on the Internet in 1995. Many of the features you find on her blog, www.timigustafson.com, are based on the pioneering work of those days. Today, her goals remain the same: Helping people to achieve optimal health of body and mind. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from San José State University in California and completed a Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. She is a registered dietitian and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Dietitians in Business and Communications, Healthy Aging, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Groups. For more information about Timi Gustafson R.D. please visit: www.timigustafson.com

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