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7/1/2014

vitamin B12Vitamin B12 is best known and most promoted as a cure for low energy, but this vitamin is important for much more than keeping energy levels up. Without enough vitamin B12, you may suffer from everything from depression and memory loss to canker sores and dizziness.

Many people with vitamin B12 deficiency don’t have fatigue. Vitamin B12 plays crucial roles in maintaining the health of your blood cells, digestive system, brain, and nervous system. And while fatigue (due to anemia) is sometimes a symptom, recent research shows that many people have vitamin B12 deficiency without anemia or significant fatigue. Instead, they have vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms that are more related to impairments in the nervous system.

Deficiency symptoms most often caused by impaired nervous system. In the nervous system, vitamin B12 is necessary for the formation of myelin, a whitish insulating sheath around nerve fibers that increases the speed at which impulses are conducted. It is also needed for the production of some neurotransmitters. Vitamin B12 deficiency can therefore result in defective myelin synthesis and neurotransmitter imbalances, leading to a host of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms related to the nervous system.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Symptoms

The following are the most common vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms:

Abnormal sensation, typically numbness, tingling or pricking (“pins and needles”) of the lower legs and feet (both sides)
Weakness in the legs
Increased risk of falling
Dizziness
Memory loss
Attention deficits
Irritability
Depression
Mania
Psychosis (suspiciousness, persecutory or religious delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, and disorganized thought-processes)
Sore, swollen, beefy red tongue
Sores at the corners of the mouth
Recurrent canker sores
Burning sensation of the mouth
Fatigue
Shortness of breath on exertion
Decreased bone health and increased risk of fracture
Mild diarrhea or constipation
Impaired vision
Possible increased risk of cardiovascular disease
Possible increased risk of cancer
Lightheadedness or fainting, possibly accompanied by a rapid increase in heartbeat, after standing up from a lying down position

Causes of B12 Deficiency

Causes of vitamin B12 deficiency include not eating animal products, not making enough stomach acid (“achlorhydria”-common with aging), an autoimmune disorder called pernicious anemia, and certain medications, especially acid-blocking medications (proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers) for gastro esophageal reflux and acid reflux, and Metformin for diabetes.

Treating Vitamin B12 Deficiency Symptoms

Treatment for vitamin B12 deficiency usually starts with injections of the vitamin. Some patients need regular vitamin B12 injections for life, depending on the cause of their deficiency. After vitamin B12 injections have returned the body’s levels to normal, it’s possible to switch to oral vitamin B12 supplements. Vitamin B12 supplements may contain a few different forms of the vitamin, including cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin. While all these forms of vitamin B12 are capable of treating vitamin B2 deficiency, methylcobalamin is superior for oral use. The typical recommended dose for treating vitamin B12 deficiency is 2000 micrograms per day.

For information on food sources of vitamin B12, see The Top B12 Foods for Every Diet, where you’ll find information on the best dietary sources of vitamin B12 for meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.

Source: Nutrients. Nov 2013; 5(11): 4521–4539.



6/25/2014

According to a report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO)E. coli, pneumonia and staph infections are developing stronger resistance to antibiotic medications. The WHO states that “governments around the world are beginning to pay attention to a problem so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine.”

The organization's report focuses on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in common bacterial pathogens, which “involves a range of resistance mechanisms affecting an ever-widening range of bacteria, most of which can cause a wide spectrum of diseases in humans and animals.” The issue is made more problematic by the fact that “there are many gaps in information on pathogens of major public health importance.” The report goes on to state that there have been high rates of antibiotic resistance in diseases that are the cause of many common healthcare and community-acquired infections. Of the six World Health Organization regions with national reports of 50 percent resistance or more, five have reported antimicrobial resistance in E. coli and staphylococcus aureus (staph), and all six have reported instances of resistance in pneumonia.

Antibiotic resistance is both a global health concern and an economic issue, causing more than 8 million extra days spent in hospitals. WHO estimates the current yearly cost to the U.S. health system at between $21 and $34 billion. “Because AMR has effects far beyond the health sector, it was projected, nearly 10 years ago, to cause a fall in real gross domestic product (GDP) of 0.4 percent to 1.6 percent, which translates into many billions of today’s dollars globally.”

WHO's report drives home that “resistance to common bacteria has reached alarming levels in many parts of the world, indicating that many of the available treatment options for common infectious diseases in some settings are becoming ineffective.” While the situation seems dire, the World Health Organization is doing what it can to help remedy the situation and has tried in years past to promote the monitoring of antimicrobial resistance.

There is currently no universalized, global system for surveillance of the problem. However, “the World Health Organization will facilitate the development of tools and standards for harmonized surveillance of antibacterial resistance in humans, and for integrating that surveillance with surveillance of antibacterial resistance in food-producing animals and the food chain.” The organization also promises to work to develop strategies for population-based surveillance, not only for improved physical health but also to prevent harmful economic impacts caused by an increased strain on the healthcare system. 



6/20/2014

As an editor for Mother Earth News, I’m constantly surrounded by inspiring recipes and DIY projects.  It can be a serious challenge to narrow down which ones to try, and which ones to simply accept as fodder for my Pinterest board. One of our natural health recipes, however, caught my attention from the first time I saw it. I craved the day I could throw down my red pen and replace it with a bag of fresh herbs — I simply had to test the Homemade Horehound Cough Drops Recipe before my eyes.

The stars aligned last spring when our Editor-in-Chief, Cheryl, developed a nagging cough. She casually mentioned that the horehound in her garden was doing well, and before I knew it I had volunteered to test the Horehound Cough Drops Recipe that had caught my eye. The very next morning a GIANT bag of fresh horehound appeared on my desk. I didn’t have much experience with horehound at the time, and I was surprised to see that the leaves are fuzzy and they feel super soft, kind of like sage. In the picture above, marshmallow is on the left and horehound is on the right.

I’m lucky enough to be an apprentice in an intensive local program that teaches how to grow herbs and process them for medicine. A few days after receiving the horehound, I was at my teacher’s home and she recommended that I add some marshmallow leaves to the cough drops; this is because marshmallow leaves help reduce inflammation in the mucus membranes and they also thin the mucus for easy expulsion from the body (more on that, here).  This is a great benefit for someone with a nagging cough and deeply lodged phlegm. I plucked fresh marshmallow leaves from my teacher’s expansive herbal medicine garden, and I had all the fresh ingredients I needed to make the cough drops.

I followed this recipe for Homemade Horehound Cough Drops, which originally appeared in the 1993 issue of Mother Earth Living. Because I had so many fresh herbs, I doubled the recipe. To make the cough drops, you basically make a super-strong tea from your fresh herbs, and then strain the liquid. You add the tea, sugar (be warned, there’s a lot of sugar in this recipe) and honey to the pan, and then bring it all to a boil. Keep boiling the concoction until it reaches a hard-crack stage, which is about 330 degrees Fahrenheit.  I almost didn’t buy a candy thermometer for this project because I figured a hard-crack stage would be pretty easy to reach and recognize. Wrong! That candy thermometer was well worth the three dollar investment; make sure you have one.

When the liquid gets super hot, it starts to bubble like mad. The hotter it gets, the higher the bubbles climb. In hindsight, I definitely needed to use a bigger saucepan. Because I was nervous to turn the heat up too high, and therefore have to deal with an overflowing, bubbly mess, it took a while for the batch to reach the hard-crack stage (about two hours). I checked this time online though, and it seems abnormally high.  This is a warning to you all – use a big enough saucepan so that you can crank the heat without worrying about sticky bubbles oozing onto your stovetop.  Keep an eye on it though — you also don’t want your syrup to burn and stick to the bottom of the pan. It’s all about finding a good middle ground.

You can tell the candy has reached the hard-crack stage when you drop a glob of syrup into ice water, scoop it out, bite it, and it feels hard like actual hard candy. (Again, full directions can be found here.) I poured the finished liquid onto a well-oiled cookie sheet and let it cool for a few minutes before scoring. I was super new to the candy-making process, so I had to learn that “scoring” means tracing lines in the partly-cooled mixture so that it’s easier to break apart in neat little squares after it has hardened. I used a pizza cutter for this step and it worked really well. 

Scored Horehound Cough Drops

The finished cough drops were SUPER bitter. Cheryl really liked them though, probably because they actually worked on her cough.  There aren’t any weird processed ingredients or unrecognizable preservatives in these cough drops, which I love. The downside is that there’s a lot of sugar in these bitter bites. The sugar plays an important role in reaching that hard-candy consistency, which make these cough drops so much fun to suck on and crunch. If you’re willing to forfeit that consistency, I bet you could replace much of the sugar with honey to make a horehound cough syrup instead.

If anyone has a sugar-free cough drop recipe to share, please leave it in the comments section below. I’d love to try it out! 




6/18/2014

At the Herbal Academy of New England, one of our greatest joys is to witness the deepening relationship between the students in our online herbalism programs and the plants and herbs already in their homes—common spices like coriander, cinnamon, thyme, cumin, and clove. Simply by opening a kitchen cabinet, a student steps into the world of herbalism through their own familiar collection of herbs and spices bursting with vibrant and fragrant medicine.

Kitchen Medicine

Humans have been pinching, dashing, and tossing herbs and spices into pots and pans since ancient times. Many culinary herbs are high in volatile oils, which aid digestion and relax our nervous systems. Others are rich in antioxidants that offer protection from DNA damage, as well as enhance the activity of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. Spices like turmeric, clove, rosemary, and ginger contain plant compounds that even in small amounts bring us health and vitality, while creating depth of flavor and preventing spoilage in our food.

A student need not venture even as far as the spice cabinet before encountering a potent herb that is often overlooked as people reach for more exotic healers. But this small, dried berry was once considered exotic, and so rare and expensive that it was kept under lock and key. In times past, it was used as currency, ransom, and sacred offerings.

Black pepper, the king of spices, has been part of Indian cooking and medicinal traditions for thousands of years, and now sits next to almost every saltshaker on countless tables across North America.

Black pepper is the fruit of Piper nigrum (Piperaceae), a vine native to South India and primarily cultivated on India’s Malabar coast, Sumatra, and in Vietnam. It is the most traded spice in the world. Piper nigrum, depending on how it is processed and prepared, produces white, red, orange, green, or black peppercorns, all of which are unique in taste and scent.

Black Pepper in HerbalismHANE Black Pepper Spice

Ayurvedic practitioners use black pepper to improve digestion and to address gastrointestinal problems and colds. Black pepper is also used as a warming herb for kapha imbalances, as well as for headaches, urinary problems, and toothache. Masala chai, a delicious traditional Indian brew, features black peppercorns as well as other common kitchen herbs high in antioxidants like clove and cardamom.

Similarly, Western herbalists use black pepper for cold and flus, as a diaphoretic to stimulate sweating, carminative to help with digestion, anti-inflammatory, and as a diuretic. It is also used to enhance circulation, and is included in preventatives like fire cider, a traditional folk formula of apple cider vinegar infused with kitchen herbs and spices.

The taste of black pepper on the tongue triggers the stomach to release hydrochloric acid, which is needed to digest protein, and stimulates digestive enzymes in the pancreas. Black pepper has been found to significantly enhance the activity of the body’s natural killer cells, and has anti-tumor and anti-mutagenic properties.

Black Pepper Health Concerns

Because not enough information is available to determine safety in pregnant and breastfeeding women, only culinary amounts of black pepper should be used by those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Black pepper may inhibit drug metabolism so should be used with caution, if at all, by those taking pharmaceutical medications (talk with your doctor). It is not recommended to take pepper in very large amounts—fortunately culinary amounts (1/2 – 1 teaspoon) can be very effective!

There have been some concerns raised about a constituent called safrole, which is found in very small amounts in black pepper as well as other herbs like basil, star anise, nutmeg, and ginger. This constituent was given a bad rap after being isolated and injected in large amounts into rats, who then developed liver cancer. However, injecting large amounts of an isolated plant chemical into a non-human species tells us nothing about the effect on humans who eat small amounts of the whole plant. In contrast, the research data on humans and whole black pepper indicates the opposite: that black pepper is anti-carcinogenic. Regardless, safrole significantly decreases when peppercorns are cooked and dried according to traditional preparation methods.

Black Pepper as Catalyst

Perhaps the most interesting use of black pepper in herbalism is that of catalyst. Catalysts are activator plants that herbalists add in small amounts to formulas to help “direct” the other herbs, enhance their effectiveness, or help the body assimilate them. Often catalysts are strong tasting plants like ginger, cayenne, rosemary, peppermint, and lavender. On the sweeter side, licorice root is a classic catalyst, the great harmonizer of complex herbal brews in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Black pepper’s catalytic action is seen in recent research showing that compounds in black pepper enhance the bioavailability of antioxidant compounds in turmeric by up to 2,000%. Other studies have shown that piperine, a component of black pepper, improves the bioavailability of other substances in food including beta carotene, selenium, pyroxidine, and amino acids.

If the microcosm is a reflection of the macro, we can see black pepper’s strong catalytic action in world history, in the sense that this spice catalyzed Europeans to explore and “discover” new continents and lands across the globe, and led to the development of lucrative major trading ports, including New England’s own Salem, Massachusetts. Black pepper also made the fortune of Elias Haskett Derby, America’s first millionaire.

Black Pepper Ethical Issues

Farmers who cultivate spices like black pepper face increasing challenges from fluctuating market prices, world demand, competition, and irregular weather patterns, all of which create hardship in earning a livable income. Unfortunately, black pepper’s trading price is now lower than it was over 20 years ago and does not meet the cost of production for struggling farmers.

We recommend seeking out black pepper and other spices that are associated with a fair trade cooperative that guarantees minimum premiums for growers. In addition, look for companies that adhere to environmental and cultural standards such as no forced labor, commitment to sustainability practices, and restricted chemical use.

Choosing and Using Black Pepper

To preserve black pepper’s volatile oils, use whole peppercorns and store away from light until you are ready to freshly grind them. Look for peppercorns that are uniform and rich in color, with a strong aroma.

The versatility of black pepper makes it a fine accompaniment for dishes both savory and sweet (strawberries or peaches with black pepper are surprisingly spectacular combinations) and can be added in small amounts to tea, chai, and sprinkled on sandwiches and popcorn. Or try it in Golden Milk, a delicious traditional Indian drink combing turmeric and black pepper.

Taste will vary depending on where the pepper was grown and how it was prepared. My personal favorite is Tellicherry black pepper, grown near Kerala on the Malabar coast of India. Tellicherry peppercorns have a slight sweetness and exotic fruitiness that balances out deeper warmth and pungency.

Marlene Adelmann, our director at the Herbal Academy of New England says that “learning about the medicinal properties of plants is like a gift within a gift, and like turning on a light you didn’t know existed.” We encourage students in our online Intermediate Herbalism Course to turn this light on through a meditative experiential exercise, in which we ask students to experience their kitchen spices as if they are tasting and smelling them for the very first time.

This exercise can present a challenge for students tasting black pepper, a spice so commonly used it is often no longer consciously tasted or experienced. But when approached mindfully and with a curious beginner’s mind, black pepper’s exotic perfume calls to mind distant lands and tropical vines, and its pungent and fruity warmth dazzles the taste buds like no other. Black pepper is truly a gift within a gift, offering us taste and health with every pinch.

References

Farag, SE, Abo-Zeid, M. Degradation of the natural mutagenic compound safrole in spices by cooking and irradiation. Nahrung. 1997 Dec;41(6):359-61.

Percival, SS, Heuvel, JPV, Nieves, CJ, Montero, C, Migliaccio, AJ, Meadors, J. Bioavailability of Herbs and Spices in Humans as Determined by ex vivo Inflammatory Suppression and DNA Strand Breaks. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012 31(4):288 - 294.

Singh A, Duggal S. Piperine-Review of Advances in Pharmacology. Int J Pharm Sci Nanotechnol 2009; 2:615-20. 

Spices and Herbs. Fair Trade International. Web accessed January 31, 2014 from

Srinivasan, K. Black pepper and its pungent principle-piperine: A review of diverse physiological effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 47(8):735-748, 2007.

Annie Hall is the Assistant Director at the Herbal Academy of New England, the home of the the Online Introductory Herbal Course and the Online Intermediate Herbal Course, and meeting place for Boston area herbalists.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



6/16/2014

Maybe it was moments after birth, maybe it was weeks, but you have finally established breastfeeding. You have now decided that for either necessity or leisure, it is time to leave the house and face the world with your precious little one. You’ve got diapers and extra clothes for baby, water and a snack for yourself. And then it hits you, how am I supposed to feed this little one when I am not in the comfort of my own home in my favorite breastfeeding chair with my pillows and my boppy and my breastfriend and my…

Take a deep breath, breastfeeding in various locations need not be stressful. In fact, once you find your comfort zone, you will realize that you can feed anywhere, in any position with and without anyone knowing. So, here are a few tips and approaches to prepare you for your first adventure out with baby. To begin, lets discuss the primary approaches - whip it out, or conceal and cover.

leah and lucca

Whip it Out (WIO)

The WIO momma believes that a primary function of the breast is to feed baby and that it should be done whenever and wherever baby expresses hunger. WIO momma will usually lift her shirt up above the breast and get baby started or pull her shirt under the breast. The benefits to this approach is that there are few clothing considerations. For example, a two-piece option, shirt and pants or skirt, will work just as well for feeding as a long dress with a flexible neckline. Another benefit is that no additional equipment or clothing are necessary and when you are having coffee with a friend, there is little to do besides lift and feed. One challenge is that momma will be remonstrating against the status quo system which says breasts should be seen in a bikini or low-cut dress, but never for feeding in public. This popular comic depicts the situation well. But, as a mother, this will not be the first time you must assert yourself and make the best decision for you and baby. The WIO approach provides great training for this.

Conceal and Cover (CC)

Like WIO momma, the CC momma also believes that breasts are perfectly designed to feed her baby and that she can do this anytime baby needs to eat. CC momma, however, wants to protect her breasts from the eyes of others. There are many ways to cover up. The most basic being that when a shirt is lifted to put baby on the breast, momma will either pull the shirt down to where baby’s mouth and nipple meet to cover the breast or use a hand or other piece of clothing to cover the breast. The next level up is draping a receiving or other small blanket over momma’s shoulder and baby’s head. The top level is the official cover, which can be found everywhere from Target to Etsy to the hands of a crafty friend. Covers act like a curtain in which you close up baby from the outside world and with a little ring slipped around mommas neck, they allow momma to look down and watch baby eat. Within the different levels of CC, there are different benefits and challenges. For example, basic CC often draws little attention from others as it usually looks like baby is merely cradled in momma’s arms. While it requires no additional clothing or equipment, type of clothing must be considered as two-piece outfits are a must. A little flash of nipple or breast from time to time is inevitable at this level. Next, blankets are simple enough to carry and to cover up with. As baby gets older, however, baby is likely to want to take the blanket off and blow your cover. In warmer climates or times of the year, a blanket may also be the last thing either party wants draped around themselves. Finally, the official covers are efficient in hiding all that is happening and in ensuring that neither baby nor breast nor nipple will see the light of day. They can, however, be a bit cumbersome with several steps needed to secure them and again in warm weather may not be desirable.Often, covers attract more attention in trying to hide in public than in simply having baby at the breast.

WIO vs. CC

As your public breastfeeding adventure continues, you may find that you are a CC momma in some situations and an WIP momma in others. Or, you may find you are strictly WIO or strictly CC. “Every situation is different for me depending on my mood, baby's mood, where we are, what the weather is like and who we are around. I've done the whip it out in public but I've also covered sitting on my own couch and visa versa, “ says Gretchen Tellessen of Troutdale, OR. And Marie Dahlstrom of White Plains, NY says, “Tried to cover up at first, too much of a fight. Whip-it-out, no fight.. Happy baby equals happy mama.” Like Gretchen and Marie, other mommas have already begun this adventure and they continue on with you as you are just beginning.  Here is some of the advice they offer:

Practice at home. Many mommas suggest practicing “public breastfeeding” at home. This may include getting baby to the breast with out your boppy, and breastfriend and, and...and all the other props you use at home. If you plan to feed while wearing baby, certainly rehearse that scenario - go over how to clear all the extra fabric or loosen straps to make momma and baby comfortable. Or, it may involve a mirror, “I always liked the advice of practicing in front of the mirror so you could see exactly what others see,” says Jessica McCauley Aremitage of Housten, TX.

Dress in Layers. Beware, if you are anything like me, the nursing tank may become a permanent part of your wardrobe for years to come. And I am not the only one in this boat. A nursing tank is a simple tank top you wear under what ever else you are wearing, and it unhooks at the breast to provide access for baby while conveniently keeping your fresh, squishy belly covered. Kalla Burke of La Crosse, WI says she uses the two shirt method, “ You can pull the t-shirt up and the tank top down...I turn away from people till I get the baby latched and then nobody can see my nipple.”

Smile and make eye contact. “Any eye contact I made (when breastfeeding)...I smiled. Some people look down, some smiled back.” says Jocelyn Adele Thomas of Gresham, OR.  Just as a dog smells fear, so do those around you when you are feeding.. Whether you are comfortably tucked away in the back of a friend’s living room or front and center at a potluck, those around you will pick-up their comfort cues from you. If you present yourself as confident with what you are doing, others will feel more confident sharing the space with you. Additionally, when you look folks in the eye and smile at them, it gives them no reason to look anywhere else.

Trust yourself. “Everyone else eats in public,why not my sweets?” asks Marie from NY. With that said,if you aren’t a WIO momma, don’t force it. If you feel weird feeding in front of uncle Tom, turn your back to him or go to another room. Calie Chapman of Sandy, OR says that while she,”gave up caring if people saw cleavage,” she still gets nervous and asks if certain people mind if she feeds. In the end, do what is right for you and your baby. Know that your first attempts may be stressful and that like parenting, you may need to try a few different approaches before you find what works.  Jocelyn in OR says, “Its not my deal to make everyone comfortable, so I never tried.” She is right. Your deal is your baby, figure out what makes you and baby comfortable in feeding and do it with your head held high and your breast ready for take off.

What would you add to this guide? What were your experiences the first few times you breastfed in public? Are you a WIO or a CC momma?

Photo courtesy of Leah Pellegrini, feeding baby Lucca at Painted Hills, OR


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



6/11/2014

EKGCould you possibly have enough plaque in your arteries to put you at high risk of deadly heart disease and yet have normal cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight? New research says absolutely yes, but it also reveals that a calcium score test can accurately measure your true risk.

How do you know if you have heart disease, the number one killer in America? While some people have symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, most people have no symptoms at all. In fact, for many, the first symptom is death. But it doesn’t have to be that way: The calcium score test is a quick, easy, non-invasive, $99 test that finds heart disease before it turns deadly.

Calcium Score Tests are Advantageous

Most imaging tests that visualize the arteries that supply the heart are expensive, time-consuming, invasive, and/or risky, and some of them just don’t do a very good job of confirming the presence of calcified plaques clogging the heart’s arteries. Doctors and researchers have been debating for years whether it’s worth it to look for heart disease in patients with no symptoms, given the expense and invasiveness of most of these tests. In the last few years, however, more studies support and more doctors are recommending the coronary artery calcium score test as an easy, quick, inexpensive, and relatively safe way to visualize coronary artery disease.

What Is a Calcium Score Test?

The coronary artery calcium score test is a painless test done by a CT scanner. It supplies less radiation than a chest CT and does not require any IV or contrast dyes, as do many of the other imaging tests. This test measures calcium deposits in the coronary arteries. The calcium is part of the calcified (hardened) plaques, which are gradually formed due to inflammation and oxidized cholesterol and fats in the walls of arteries. The amount of calcium seen on CT is related to the amount of underlying coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries of the heart), the hallmark of coronary heart disease.

Heart Scan

Better at Predicting Heart Attacks

New studies, just presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 2014 Scientific Sessions, show calcium score tests to be better at predicting long-term heart problems than other available tests, particularly when evaluating low-risk patients.[1] A Houston Methodist Hospital study, for instance, found that coronary calcium testing in people with no heart disease symptoms is definitely worthwhile. Nearly 1,000 patients, most of whom were considered low risk for heart disease, were given a calcium score test and a plain exercise treadmill stress test and then tracked for seven years. The coronary calcium score test proved a far better predictor of risk. Lead study author Su Min Chang, M.D., said the results show that calcium scoring can help catch patients who are on the way to developing heart disease earlier than other available tests.

Interpreting Your Calcium Score

A low calcium score suggests a very low risk for blocked coronary arteries and coronary events. The optimal calcium score is zero (no calcium detected). Scores of 1 to 99 are generally considered low; 100 to 399, moderate; and above 400, high. People with low scores (less than 100) have less risk of cardiac events like heart attacks, and the risk increases as the score increases. A high coronary artery calcium score can help to predict heart attacks or the need for coronary bypass surgery or coronary (balloon) angioplasty.

Low Calcium Score Means 50 Percent Higher Risk of Dying

Even patients with low calcium scores (1–99) are 50% more likely to die than patients with a score of zero, according to another recent, 20-year study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s yearly conference. Nearly 5,600 subjects from UCLA Medical Center were followed for an average of 10 years. All subjects were considered to be at low risk for heart disease, and those with calcium scores of zero were compared with those with low, moderate, and high calcium scores.

Moderate scores (100–399) were associated with an 80% greater likelihood of dying, and high scores (above 400) were associated with a three-times-greater risk of dying as compared with patients with zero calcium. Clearly, it’s possible to have a deadly amount of plaque even if you’re traditionally considered low-risk based on your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, smoking status, etc.

How to Get a Calcium Score Test

Don’t hesitate to discuss the benefits of coronary artery calcium scoring with your doctor. In some states, you can decide to get the test yourself without a doctor’s request just by calling and scheduling with diagnostic imaging departments directly. The average cost is only $99.

If you do have a higher-than-optimal calcium score, there is a lot you can do to decrease your risk of having a heart attack. Rather than focusing on any one therapy, maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle has been found to be the best predictor of keeping calcium scores low, the heart healthy, and living a long life, another study found. A low-sodium diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy sources of fats, and lean protein is a key, as is moderate exercise, stress reduction, and good control of blood pressure and blood sugar. You’ll find information on all these therapies here, in our comprehensive guide to lowering cholesterol.

Reference

American College of Cardiology. News Release. 2014 Mar 29.



6/2/2014

We’ve all heard about how a Mediterranean diet is linked to good cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure. Until recently, researchers could only speculate on which foods within a Mediterranean diet were responsible for its blood pressure-lowering effects and how they worked, but the results of a new study may solve the mystery.

Foods to Lower Blood Pressure

Olive Oil and Lettuce

Researchers from King's College London in the UK discovered that the combination of unsaturated fats and nitrate-rich vegetables is the key. In addition to olive oil, the typical Mediterranean diet comprises foods rich in unsaturated fats, such as fish, nuts, and avocados. When these fatty foods are eaten along with vegetables rich in nitrates, such as leafy greens and certain other vegetables like celery and red beetroot, the unsaturated fatty acids react with the nitrogen compounds in the vegetables to make what are known as nitro fatty acids. These nitro fatty acids then go on to block an enzyme called soluble epoxide hydrolase. Blocking this enzyme then inhibits a series of reactions that results in dilation of blood vessels and, consequently, lower blood pressure.[1]

The classic Mediterranean diet pairing of olive oil and green leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach is particularly good at producing the enzyme-blocking fatty acids, the researchers found.

Study Details

The authors, who published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, note that previous studies have already suggested that blocking soluble epoxide hydrolase lowers blood pressure. For their study, the researchers compared normal mice to mice engineered with a version of the enzyme that could not bind with nitro fatty acids. After inducing high blood pressure in the two groups of mice, the researchers then fed them a Mediterranean diet, which generated nitro fatty acid. Blood pressure went down in the normal mice but not in the genetically modified mice in which the nitro fatty acids could not bind to the soluble hydroxide hydrolase enzyme, showing that this is the mechanism by which the Mediterranean diet lowers blood pressure

"The findings of our study help to explain why previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular problems like stroke, heart failure and heart attacks," said Philip Eaton, one of the study authors and professor of Cardiovascular Biochemistry at King's College London.[2]

Foods That Lower Blood Pressure

Vegetables High in Nitrates

Have you considered switching to a Mediterranean diet to help treat your hypertension? There are numerous books and online resources outlining various versions of Mediterranean diets and providing menu plans, recipes, nutritional information, and more. While none of them provide lists of fruits and vegetables high in nitrates, it’s important to make sure you include them in your diet plan if your goal is to lower blood pressure. The following table shows how different vegetables compare according to their nitrate content.[3]

Nitrate content (mg/100 g fresh weight)

Vegetables

Very low, <20

Artichoke, asparagus, eggplant, garlic, onion, green bean, mushroom, pea, pepper, potato, summer squash, sweet potato, tomato, watermelon

Low, 20 to <50

Broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, pumpkin

Middle, 50 to <100

Cabbage, dill, turnip, savoy cabbage

High, 100 to <250

Celeriac, Chinese cabbage, endive, fennel, kohlrabi, leek, parsley

Very high, >250

Celery, lettuce, rocket (arugula), spinach, red beetroot, watercress, chervil

Additional Foods to Eat to Lower Blood Pressure

Combine vegetables from the higher nitrate categories with olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fish to form your own favorite blood pressure-lowering combos. Make a salad with beets, celery, avocado, and olive oil-based dressing and voila! And don’t forget about additional specific foods to eat to lower blood pressure: pomegranate juice, berries, dark chocolate, hibiscus tea, and more. There’s no doubt about it, food is medicine. Use it to start treating your high blood pressure today.

References:

  1. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 May 19.
  2. King’s College London. News Release. 2014 May 20.
  3. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):1-10.











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