Heart Patients Lacking Vitamin D More Likely to Be Depressed

MONDAY, Nov. 16, 2009 (Health.com) — People with heart disease and similar conditions who don’t have enough vitamin D are more likely to be depressed than their counterparts with adequate levels of the “sunshine vitamin,” according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando. This link seems to be even stronger in the winter.

Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because the human body produces it only when exposed to sunlight—although it takes just 10 to 15 minutes a day to make an adequate amount. Vitamin D, which helps the bones better absorb calcium, is also added to multivitamins and milk, and occurs naturally in fish.

A second study by the same team of researchers found that people age 50 or older who lack vitamin D are at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke, and are more likely to die earlier than people the same age who get adequate amounts of the vitamin.

These studies add to the mounting evidence about the dangers of vitamin D deficiency and may also shed light on the connection between depression and cardiovascular disease (which includes any disease caused by clogged arteries, including heart disease).

Depression and diseases of the arteries—both have been associated with vitamin D deficiency in the past—tend to occur together, says Heidi May, PhD, an epidemiologist with the Intermountain Medical Center at the University of Utah, in Murray, who participated in both studies.

“It is known that during the last century, the prevalence of depression has increased, and, more recently, that vitamin D deficiency has increased,” May says. “It is well-known that depression is associated with cardiovascular disease and events.” This research, she adds, “is trying to elucidate whether vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and may be contributing to this increase in cardiovascular disease and events.”

In the first study, May and her colleagues measured blood levels of vitamin D in 8,680 people age 50 or older who had been diagnosed with heart disease, stroke, or another type of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin D levels above 30 nanograms per milliliter of blood (ng/mL) were considered normal, levels between 15 and 30 ng/mL were low, and those 15 ng/mL and below were deemed very low.

Among those with very low levels of vitamin D, 32% were depressed, as were 25% of the people with low levels, and 21% of those with normal levels. This trend was seen even among individuals with no history of depression.

Winter seemed to make the association even more pronounced. Seasonal depression, which typically occurs in winter, may be linked to lack of sunshine.

In the second study, which looked at 27,686 people age 50 or older with no history of cardiovascular disease, May and her colleagues found that, compared to individuals with normal levels of the vitamin, people with very low levels of vitamin D were 77% more likely to die, 45% more likely to develop heart disease, and 78% more likely to have a stroke during the study, which lasted for more than a year. They also had double the risk of heart failure.

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Source: http://www.health.com

10 Ways You Put Yourself At Risk for H1N1

Surprising risk factors
Whether you decide to get a flu shot this year or not, it’s important to take steps to prevent yourself from getting the seasonal flu, as well as H1N1, commonly referred to as swine flu.

If you already sneeze into your sleeve, wash your hands diligently, and avoid crowds where these viruses can easily spread, you’re on the right track. But you still may be putting yourself at risk in these unexpected ways—probably without even realizing it.

Worrying too much
Panicking about getting sick can make you just that—sick. It’s easy to get carried away, with all the hype about the scary swine flu virus; however, it’s important to look at things in perspective. Overall, H1N1 has not proven to be anymore of a threat than the regular seasonal flu, and most people who do catch the virus fully recover.

Research does show, however, that anxiety can manifest itself in a wide variety of ailments—including acid reflux, insomnia, skin rashes, and depression—so it shouldn’t be surprising that the added stress of worrying about swine flu can also weaken your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to catching a bug.

Hugging, kissing, and shaking hands
What’s so dangerous about a simple handshake? Close contact with infected individuals is one of the easiest ways to pick up a virus. That doesn’t mean you should be antisocial all flu season long, but you should be aware of possible transmission opportunities. If you are in a situation where physical hellos or good-byes are necessary, try not to touch your mouth or eyes afterward until you can wash your hands.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends maintaining a 6-foot buffer from sick people to cut down on the virus’s ability to spread. So, as a precautionary measure, all sorts of cultural greetings—from shaking hands to hugging to kissing on the cheek—are getting the ax.

Smoking
Smoking cigarettes weakens the tiny disease-fighting hairs tucked inside nasal passages and the lungs, which trap and dispose of germs. This can leave your body more susceptible to attack. Plus, research shows that H1N1 burrows deeper into the lungs than seasonal flu, leading to infections that may be more severe than those caused by the latter.

Pascal James Imperato, MD, the dean of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, warns that prior lung damage, such as that caused by smoking, can leave you at greater risk of serious complications as well. “Chronic smokers are always much more vulnerable to severe viral infections of the respiratory type,” he says. “They have damaged lungs, so they are more susceptible to coming down with illnesses and developing pneumonias following them.”

For more ways you are putting yourself at risk click here.
Source: Health.com

7 Surprising Heartburn Triggers

Heartburn is as American as apple pie—more than 60 million people experience it at least once a month. For some people—those with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD—heartburn can be a constant companion.

Some heartburn triggers are obvious: chili dogs, chocolate cake, Thanksgiving. But heartburn doesn’t stop and start with food alone. If you have constant heartburn, it’s time to track down the real culprit.

Smoking
As if anyone needed another reason to quit: Smoking makes GERD worse.

Smoking can weaken the valve between the stomach and esophagus (so stomach acid flows back into the esophagus); cause fat-digesting bile salts to migrate from the small intestine to the stomach; and cut down on saliva, which normally flushes stomach acid out of the esophagus and contains a natural acid-fighter, bicarbonate.

Pills
Prone to frequent headaches and heartburn? Think twice about reaching for the ibuprofen. When used regularly, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen can trigger heartburn.

Some prescription drugs can too, including antibiotics, calcium channel blockers (for high blood pressure), bronchodilators such as albuterol (for asthma and COPD), osteoporosis drugs, and some sedatives.

Consult your doctor if you think your Rx is causing heartburn—don’t just decide to stop taking a drug on your own.

Fish oil supplements
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids and has been hailed as a natural way to manage heart disease, depression, and countless other health conditions. However, it can also cause heartburn.

The oil—not the fish—appears to be responsible for gastrointestinal side effects. Fish itself is low in fat and high in protein and is an excellent food for heartburn sufferers when used in a healthy, heartburn-soothing recipe.

Stress
Stress does seem to trigger heartburn, but the relationship is trickier than you might think. Stress does not cause an off-the-charts surge in stomach acid production.

However, a study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research suggests that a heartburn patient’s perception of his symptoms—and not the actual levels of stomach acid—are associated with stress.

In other words, stressed people may be more aware of heartburn symptoms or the neurological effects of stress might ratchet up pain receptors in the esophagus.

Peppermint
Peppermint, like fish oil, is a double-edged sword when it comes to the stomach. Peppermint tea, peppermint-oil capsules, and even peppermint candies are often used to settle upset stomachs—but these remedies can backfire on people with GERD.

The soothing and numbing effect of menthol tends to relax the valve that separates the stomach and esophagus (known as the lower esophageal sphincter), which can cause stomach acids to drift up the esophagus more easily, aggravating heartburn.

Being overweight
The more you weigh, the more likely you are to have heartburn. A 2003 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the risk of acid reflux symptoms increases along with body-mass index (BMI).

The association seems to be stronger in women than men (especially premenopausal women).

Explanations vary. Poor diet, excess body fat in the abdomen, and chemicals released by body fat have all been cited as possible culprits.

Your genes
Wondering what’s causing your heartburn? Take a look across the dinner table; your parents, not your plate, may be partly to blame.

In recent years, twin studies have suggested that 30% to 45% of your risk for GERD is dependent on genetic factors. (The rest is up to you: what you eat, whether you smoke, whether you exercise.)

Experts aren’t entirely sure what explains the hereditary nature of GERD. It could be due to inherited physical traits, such as abnormalities in stomach function or a hypersensitivity to stomach acids.

Source: http://www.health.com

High Cholesterol Levels Can Increase Your Stroke Risk

stroke-symptoms-pictureEach year more than 750,000 Americans suffer a stroke. Strokes are often caused by unhealthy cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates, but does not dissolve, in the blood. If a person has too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol, it can slowly build up in the wall of the arteries. Eventually this buildup forms a thick, hard plaque that narrows the arteries. If one of these plaques ruptures, it causes a blot clot to form, which can block normal blood flow to the brain and lead to a stroke.

A stroke is a sudden disruption in blood flow to the brain caused by a blockage or bleeding of a blood vessel. Areas of the brain that are affected by the blockage or bleeding can become damaged within minutes.

The effects of a stroke may be mild or severe and temporary or permanent, depending on which brain cells are damaged, how much of the brain is involved, and how quickly the blood supply is restored to the area.

Symptoms of a stroke are sudden and may include:
* Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
* New problems with walking or balance.
* Sudden vision changes.
* Drooling or slurred speech.
* New problems speaking or understanding simple statements, or feeling confused.
* A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
A person with stroke symptoms needs immediate medical attention to help limit potential damage.

Source: health.com