Tags Posts tagged with "lifestyle changes"

lifestyle changes

Fruit, like these Sumo Citrus, is a good source of fiber. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Modest lifestyle changes have a resounding effect

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

We can significantly reduce the occurrence of heart disease, the number one killer in the United States, by making modest lifestyle changes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 790,000 heart attacks annually and 210,000 of these occur in those who’ve already had a first heart attack (1). Here, I will provide specifics on how to make changes to protect you and your family from heart disease, regardless of family history.

The evidence continues to highlight lifestyle changes, including diet, as the most important factors in preventing heart disease. Changes that garner a big bang for your buck include the consumption of chocolate, legumes, nuts, fiber and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

Chocolate effect

Chocolate lovers, this study is for you! Preliminary evidence shows that two pieces of chocolate a week may decrease the risk of a heart attack by 37 percent, compared to those who consume less (2). However, the authors warned against the idea that more is better. In fact, high fat and sugar content and calorically dense aspects may have detrimental effects when consumed at much higher levels. There is a fine line between potential benefit and harm. The benefits may be attributed to micronutrients referred to as flavonols.

I usually recommend that patients have one to two squares – about one-fifth to two-fifths of an ounce – of dark chocolate daily. Who says prevention has to be painful?

Role of fiber

Fiber has a dose-response relationship to reducing risk. In other words, the more fiber intake, the greater the reduction in risk. In a meta-analysis of 10 studies, results showed for every 10-gram increase in fiber, there was a corresponding 14 percent reduction in the risk of a cardiovascular event and a 27 percent reduction in the risk of heart disease mortality (3). The authors analyzed data that included over 90,000 men and 200,000 women.

The average American consumes about 16 grams per day of fiber (4). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 14 grams of fiber for each 1,000 calories consumed, or roughly 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men (5). Therefore, we can significantly reduce our risk of heart disease if we increase our consumption of fiber to reach the recommended levels. Good sources of fiber are whole grains and fruits.

Omega-3 fatty acids

In a study with over 45,000 men, there were significant reductions in coronary heart disease with omega-3 PUFAs. Both plant-based and seafood-based omega-3s showed these effects (7). Good sources of omega-3s from plant-based sources include nuts, such as walnuts, and ground flaxseed.

Your ultimate goal should be to become “heart attack proof,” a term used by Dr. Sanjay Gupta and reinforced by Dr. Dean Ornish. This requires a plant-based diet. The more significant the lifestyle modifications you make, the closer you will come to achieving this goal. But even modest changes in diet will result in significant reductions in risk.

Legumes’ impact

In a prospective (forward-looking) cohort study, the First National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study (NHEFS), legumes reduced the risk of coronary heart disease by a significant 22 percent. Those who consumed four or more servings per week, compared to those who consumed less than one serving, saw this effect. The legumes used in this study included beans, peas and peanuts (6). There were over 9,500 men and women involved, spanning 19 years of follow-up. I recommend that patients consume at least one to two servings a day, or 7 to 14 a week. Imagine the impact that would have, compared to the modest four servings per week used to reach statistical significance.

References:

(1) cdc.gov. (2) BMJ 2011; 343:d4488. (3) Arch Intern Med. 2004 Feb 23;164(4):370-376. (4) NHANES 2009-2010 Data Brief No. 12. Sep 2014. (5) eatright.org. (6) Arch Intern Med. 2001 Nov 26;161(21):2573-2578. (7) Circulation. 2005 Jan 18;111(2):157-164.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.     

Pedometers can be the first step to helping those with mild COPD. Stock photo
Lifestyle changes can reduce COPD exacerbations

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the third leading cause of mortality in the United States (1), although it’s not highlighted much in the layman’s press.

COPD is an umbrella term that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis of more than three months for two consecutive years and/or chronic obstructive asthma. It is an obstructive lung disease that limits airflow. The three most common symptoms of the disease involve shortness of breath, especially on exertion, production of sputum and cough. This disease affects 6.7 percent of the U.S. population (2).

It tends to be progressive, meaning more frequent and severe exacerbations over time. Since it is a devastating and debilitating chronic disease with no cure, anything that can identify and prevent COPD exacerbations, as well as comorbidities (associated diseases), is critically important.

What are the traditional ways to reduce the risk of and treat COPD exacerbations? The most important step is to stop smoking, since 80 percent of COPD is related to smoking. Supplemental oxygen therapy and medications, such as corticosteroids, bronchodilators (beta-adrenergic agonists and anticholinergics) and antibiotics help to alleviate symptoms (3).

One of the underlying components of COPD may be chronic inflammation (4). Therefore, reducing inflammation may help to stem COPD exacerbations. There are several inflammatory biomarkers that could potentially help predict exacerbations and mortality associated with this disease, such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP), leukocyte (white blood cell) count and fibrinogen (a clotting factor of the blood).

How do we reduce inflammation, which may contribute to exacerbations of this disease? Some drugs, such as statins, work partially by reducing inflammation. They may have a role in COPD. Lifestyle changes that include a high-nutrient, anti-inflammatory diet and exercise may also be beneficial. Let’s look at the evidence.

Biomarkers for inflammation

In a recent population-based study with over 60,000 participants, results show that as three biomarkers (CRP, leukocyte count and fibrinogen) were elevated, the risk of COPD exacerbation increased in a linear manner (5). In other words, the risk of frequent exacerbation increased 20, 70 and 270 percent within the first year as the number of elevated biomarkers increased from one to three, compared to patients who did not have biomarker elevations.

As time progressed beyond the first year of follow-up, risk exacerbation continued to stay high. Patients with all three biomarkers elevated for longer periods had a 150 percent increased risk of frequent exacerbations. These predictions were applicable to patients with stable and with mild COPD.

In an observational study, results showed that when the biomarker IL-6 was elevated at the start of the trial in stable COPD patients, the risk of mortality increased almost 2.7-fold (6). Also, after three years, IL-6 increased significantly. Elevated IL-6 was associated with a worsening of six-minute walking distance, a parameter tied to poor physical performance in COPD patients. However, unlike the previous study, CRP did not show correlation with increased COPD exacerbation risk. This was a small trial, only involving 53 patients. Therefore, the results are preliminary.

These biomarker trials are exciting for their potential to shape treatments based on level of exacerbation risk and mortality, creating more individualized therapies. Their results need to be confirmed in a randomized controlled trial (RCT). Many of these biomarkers mentioned in the two trials are identifiable with simple blood tests at major labs.

Statin effect

Statins have been maligned for their side effects, but their efficacy has been their strong suit. An observational trial showed that statins led to at least a 30 percent reduction in the risk of COPD exacerbations, with the effect based on a dose-dependent curve (7). In other words, as the dose increased, so did the benefit.

Interestingly, even those who had taken the statin previously saw a significant reduction in COPD exacerbation risk. The duration of statin use was not important; a short use of statins, whether presently or previously, had substantial benefit. 

However, the greatest benefit was seen in those who had been on a medium to high dose or were on the drug currently. The researchers believe that the mechanism of action for statins in this setting has to do with their anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects. This was a retrospective (backward-looking) study with over 14,000 participants. We will need a prospective (forward-looking) study and an RCT to confirm the results.

Exercise

Pedometers can be the first step to helping those with mild COPD. Stock photo

Exercise is beneficial for almost every circumstance, and COPD is no exception. But did you know that a pedometer might improve results? In a three-month study, those with mild COPD were much more successful at achieving exercise goals and reducing exacerbations and symptoms when they used pedometers, compared to the group given advice alone (8). Pedometers gave patients objective feedback on their level of physical activity, which helped motivate them to achieve the goal of walking 9,000 steps daily. This is a relatively easy way to achieve exercise goals and reduce the risk of COPD exacerbations.

When exercising, we are told to vary our exercise routines on a regular basis. One study demonstrates that this may be especially important for COPD patients (9). Results show that nonlinear periodization exercise (NLPE) training is better than traditional routines of endurance and resistance training in severe COPD patients. The goal of NLPE is to alter the time spent working out, the number of sets, the number of repetitions and the intensity of the workout on a regular basis.

This study was randomized, involved 110 patients and was three months in duration. Significantly more severe COPD patients achieved their exercise goals using NLPE rather than the traditional approach. The group that used NLPE also had an improved quality of life response. The researchers believe that compliance with an NLPE-type program is mostly likely going to be greater because patients seem to enjoy it more.

Chronic inflammation may play a central role in COPD exacerbation. Nonspecific inflammatory biomarkers are potentially valuable for providing a more personalized approach to therapy. Drugs that can control inflammation, such as statins, show promise. But don’t forget the importance of lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and committing to an exercise regimen that is varied and/or involves the use of a pedometer. And potentially a high-nutrient, anti-inflammatory diet will also contribute positively to reducing the frequency and severity of COPD exacerbations.

References:

(1) Natl Vital Stat Rep. 2011 Dec.;59(10):1-126. (2) cdc.gov. (3) N Engl J Med. 2002;346:988-994. (4) www.goldcopd.org. (5) JAMA. 2013;309:2353-2361. (6) Respiratory Research. 2013;14:24. (7) Am J Med. 2013 Jul;126:598-606. (8) ATS 2013 International Conference: Abstract A1360. (9) Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2013; online Feb. 28.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Aneurysms are universally feared; they can be lethal and most times are asymptomatic (without symptoms). Yet aneurysms are one of the least well-covered medical disorders in the press. There are numerous types of aneurysms, most of which are named by their location of occurrence, including abdominal, thoracic and cerebral (brain). In this article, I will discuss abdominal aortic aneurysms, better known as a “triple-A,” or AAA. Preventing any type of aneurysm should be a priority.

What is an AAA? It is an increase in the diameter of the walls of the aorta in one area, in this case, the abdomen. The aorta is the “water main” for supplying blood to the rest of the body from the heart. Abnormal enlargement weakens the walls and increases the risk that it may rupture. If the aorta ruptures, it causes massive hemorrhaging, or bleeding, and creates a substantial likelihood of death.

The exact incidence of aneurysms is difficult to quantify, since some people may die due to its rupture without having an autopsy; however, estimates suggest that they occur in 4 to 9 percent of the population (1).

The cause of AAA is not known, but it is thought that inflammation and oxidative stress play an important role in weakening smooth muscle in the aorta (2). The consequence of this is an abnormally enlarged aorta.

People who are at highest risk for aneurysms are those over age 60 (3). Other risk factors include atherosclerosis, or hardened arteries; high blood pressure; race (Caucasian); gender (male); family history; smoking; and having a history of aneurysms in other arteries (4). Some of these risk factors are modifiable, such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and smoking.

Men are more than four times more likely to have an AAA (5). Though males are at a higher risk, women are at a higher risk of having an AAA rupture (6). So, gender is important for differentiating the incidence, but also the risk of severity.

Is it important to get screened?

The short answer is yes it is important, especially if you have risk factors. You should talk to your physician. Although some people do experience nondescript symptoms, such as pain in the abdomen, back or flank pain, the majority of cases are asymptomatic (4). A smaller AAA is less likely to rupture and can be monitored closely with noninvasive diagnostic tools, such as ultrasound and CT scan.

Sometimes cost is a question when it comes to screening, but a recent study showed unequivocally that screening ultimately reduces cost, because of the number of aneurysms that are identified and potentially prevented from rupturing (7).

What are the treatments?

There are no specific medications that prevent or treat abdominal aortic aneurysms. Medications for treating risk factors, such as high blood pressure, have no direct impact on an aneurysm’s size or progression. But the mainstay of treatment is surgery to prevent rupture. Two surgical techniques may be utilized. One approach is the endovascular repair (EVAR), which is minimally invasive, and the other is the more traditional open surgery (8). A comparison of these approaches in a small randomized controlled trial had similar outcomes: a mortality rate of 25 percent. This was considered a surprisingly good statistic.

The good news is that surgery has resulted in a 29 percent reduction in rupture of the AAA (9). When using the minimally invasive EVAR technique mentioned above, the specialist who performs the surgery may make a difference. A study’s results showed that surgeons had better outcomes, in terms of mortality rates and length of hospital stay, compared to interventional radiologists and cardiologists (10). This was a retrospective (looking in the past) study, which is not the strongest type of trial.

When to watch and wait and when to treat is a difficult question; surgery is not without its complications, and risk of death is higher than many other surgeries. AAA size is the most important factor. In women, AAAs over 5.0 cm may need immediate treatment, while in men, those over 5.5 cm may need immediate treatment (11). Smaller AAAs, however, are trickier.

The growth rate is important, so patients with this type of aneurysm should have an ultrasound or CT scan every six to 12 months. If you have an aneurysm, have a discussion with your physician about this.

Lifestyle changes

One of the most powerful tools against AAA is prevention; it avoids the difficult decision of how to best avoid rupture and the complications of surgery itself. Lifestyle changes are a must. They don’t typically have dangerous side effects, but rather potential side benefits. These lifestyle changes include smoking cessation, exercise and dietary changes.

Smoking cessation

Studies have shown that cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco use appear to increase your risk of aortic aneurysms.

Smoking has the greatest impact because it directly impacts the occurrence and size of an AAA. It increases risk of medium-to-large size aneurysms by at least fivefold. One study found that smoking was responsible for 78 percent of aortic aneurysms larger than 4 cm (12). Remember, size does matter in terms of rupture risk. So for those who smoke, this is a wake-up call.

Impact of fruit

A simple lifestyle modification with significant impact is increasing your fruit intake. The results of two prospective (forward-looking) study populations, Cohort of Swedish Men and the Swedish Mammography Cohort Study, showed that consumption of greater than two servings of fruit a day decreased the risk of an AAA by 25 percent (13). If you do have an AAA, this same amount of fruit also decreased the risk of AAA rupture by 43 percent. This study involved over 80,000 men and women, ages 46 to 84, with a follow-up of 13 years.

The authors believe that fruit’s impact may have to do with its antioxidant properties; it may reduce the oxidative stress that can cause these types of aneurysms. Remember, the quandary has been when the benefit of surgery outweighs the risks, in terms of preventing rupture. This modest amount of fruit on a daily basis may help alleviate this quandary.

So what have we learned? Screening for AAA may be very important, especially as we age and if we have a family history. Surgery results to prevent rupture are similar, regardless of the type. However, keep in mind that surgery for AAA has a significant mortality risk. At the end of the day, lifestyle changes, including smoking cessation and increased fruit intake, are no-brainers.

References: (1) Ann Intern Med. 2001;134(3):182. (2) Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2007;27:461–469. (3) J Vasc Surg. 1999;30(6):1099. (4) uptodate.com. (5) Arch Intern Med. 2000;160(10):1425. (6) J Vasc Surg. 2006;43(2):230. (7) 2012 BMJ Publishing Group. (8) Ann Surg. 2013 online Apr 1. (9) J Vasc Surg. 2009;49(3):543. (10) Annals of Surgery. 2013;258(3):476-482. (11) Lancet. 1998;352(9141):1649. (12) Ann Intern Med. 1997;126(6):441. (13) Circulation. 2013;128:795-802.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Social

9,392FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,155FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe