Could 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.
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. 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.
American College of Cardiology. News Release. 2014 Mar 29.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nitrate content (mg/100 g fresh weight)
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.
- Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 May 19.
- King’s College London. News Release. 2014 May 20.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):1-10.
Maintaining a stable level of blood sugar (glucose) throughout the day is a vital part of fighting fatigue and feeling energized. Everything you eat affects your glucose level, but sugars, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are all metabolized differently, providing significantly different results.
Simple sugars burn first and fast. They are responsible for the energy spikes and crashes that many people experience throughout the day.
Complex carbohydrates. Once the simple sugars are depleted, the body burns complex carbohydrates, such as beans, whole grains, and vegetables. These are broken down into glucose more slowly than simple sugars, which allows them to stabilize blood sugar between meals. However, even the healthiest carbohydrates can only provide the body with glucose for a few hours after a meal.
Fats and proteins are the body’s long-term energy reserves, and can even be used for months into starvation. When properly metabolized, they are the key to a steady, long-term supply of glucose.
For many people, though, nutritionally poor diets can halt the conversion of fats and proteins into glucose, which results in chronically low levels of blood sugar and decreased energy. This means that people can eat sufficient (or excessive) fat and protein, but still feel exhausted. The problem is a breakdown of energy-producing machinery, not a lack of fuel.
Minerals and Vitamins to Fight Fatigue
The breakdown occurs because protein cannot be converted into glucose without adequate supplies of certain vitamins and minerals, which are often missing from nutritionally poor diets. To restore proper metabolism and boost energy, it is vital to maintain a daily supply of these energy-producing vitamins and minerals.
Biotin is excreted from the body on a daily basis, so it needs to be replenished daily. Biotin can be found in carrots, walnuts, almonds, cashews, and other nuts.
Magnesium and zinc. Both are found in high levels in spinach.
Calcium is required for lipid oxidation. It can be found in cabbage, broccoli, and almonds.
Co-Q10, iron, sulfur, and copper. Kale, cashews, and avocado contain high levels of copper, while spinach is rich in iron. Read a detailed discussion on Co-Q10 supplementation here.
Oxaloacetate is an important part of the metabolic cycle. Studies indicate that a lack of oxaloacetate can cause energy production to fall by nearly 500%.
These nutrients are found abundantly in whole-food, vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, and paleo diets, which provide all three of the important types of fuel: complex carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. Maintaining stable and balanced quantities of these nutrients and fuels will allow the body to produce short-, medium-, and long-term energy. Give it a try and share your experience with us in the comments section below.
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"Whoever you are, you are more of that person when you're in labor." ~ Dina L.Relles
While all labors are beautiful and miraculous, they often push a mother and beyond her mental and physical limits. Such was the case with a recent birth I attended. Momma checked into the hospital in the wee hours of the morning and rested between mild contractions until mid morning. After a few laps around the hospital hallways, a breath of fresh air on the terrace and some hip circles, momma’s sensations really began to pick up. Before long she was in and out of the stationary tub, rotating her pelvis on a birthing ball and groaning through the contractions in the birth tub. Momma was focused and consistent in keeping her energy on moving baby down and out of the birth canal. After a good nine hours of solid active labor with intense contractions, the medical staff checked her dilation. She had been 3cm. nine hours ago and was still 3cm. dilated now.
Momma was discouraged; she felt she had reached her limit hours ago. It was evening now and momma had been awake for over 36 hours as she had not slept the night before. After some discussion of mommas’s options, the medical staff left the room to let momma make some decisions. The room was dark and quiet. The only sounds were the groans of the contractions, the shared breathing of momma and dadda and the swishing water of the birth tub. In the midst of the quietness momma said, “I am grateful. I am grateful for my baby. I am grateful for Michael. I am grateful that my mom is here. I am grateful to be in the water. I am grateful for the contractions. I am grateful for our doula, I am grateful my labor started naturally. I am grateful...” As momma continued her list, her gratefulness transformed a burdened environment back into an open and fresh experience.
Media often portrays childbirth as an excrutiating experience where mothers completely loose their cool, and start cursing at their partners as they grow fangs. My earlier post about why I was too chicken to have a medicated birth was my first exposure to this phenomena. Here though, in this medical environment, with gadgets, monitors, beeps and pagers was a perfectly serene mother, choosing to be grateful. It was suggested she be given petocin to help her uterus contract and get her past 3 cm. Momma acknowledged that at the peak of her pain threshold, she didn’t want the more intense contractions pitocin would give her without an epidural. Neither the pitocin nor the epidural were in her birth plan. But grateful for the assistance they would provide, momma agreed to both. The epidural allowed her to rest through the night and in the morning, momma spent less than 20 minutes pushing before she met the newest love of her life.
After a birth, I like to ask mommas to tell me their birth story. My perspective is valuable, but not nearly as valuable as momma’s perspective of the experience. Can you guess what this momma said?
“I am grateful for this experience,” was her first response. She explained how thrilled she was to have experienced a natural and un-medicated labor for as long as she did. She was very grateful for the relief brought about by the epidural. She was grateful that her fingers we no longer as swollen. She was grateful to eat without worrying about her blood sugar. She was grateful for her precious little boy. For each moment of her labor, she was grateful.
It is always such an honor to be present at a birth, and this birth was no exception. I gained so much from this momma’s gratefulness. Momma, you know who you are; and for you - I am grateful.
Trillium photo by Lisa Marie Morgan; "I found this beautiful and delicate flower the day after the described birth. Grateful!"
By administering energy in controlled, coherent pulses, physicians can use electromagnetic pulse therapy to treat wounds, chronic pain, and alcoholism. While research supports the benefits of this type of therapy when performed by professional physicians using clinical instruments, it does not support claims that electrotherapy mats and home devices effectively treat soft tissue pain. This article, then, looks only at professionally administered therapies.
Low-intensity direct current (LIDC) is safely administered by placing the electrodes from the LIDC instrument onto the surface of the skin. A very small amount of electric current flows in one direction to the site and creates a magnetic field around the wound. This creates an effect known as galvanotaxis, which causes fibroblasts and keratinocytes to travel to the wound and begin to heal tissue upon reaching the damaged area.[2,3] In studies, this effect has been shown to increase the rate of healing by 100% to 150%.[4,5] It also makes the resulting scar tissue more resistant to future damage.
In addition, LIDC has antimicrobial effects. In two studies, patients who received LIDC experienced no infections and less discomfort at their wound sites.[4,6] Typically, treatment is administered for 60 minutes each day until the wound is healed.
Depression, Pain, and More
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) is another type of electric procedure approved by the FDA when administered by trained physicians and health providers. In this treatment for depression, insomnia, and anxiety, electrodes that are placed on the ears send a small electric current into the brain. This deactivates certain portions of the brain, which mitigates symptoms of neural imbalance and hyperactivity by controlling neurotransmitter release and neuron signaling patterns.
This deactivation has also been shown to reduce the pain symptoms of fibromyalgia. Patients using CES devices report that they experience a decrease in chronic pain, and MRI scans confirm that this is due to a deactivation of pain signaling in the brain. Fibromyalgia patients using CES have been shown to experience a 28% reduction in tenderness, a 27% reduction in pain intensity, and a 55% improvement in quality of sleep. Similarly, patients who use CES therapy for spinal cord injuries report a significant decrease in pain intensity.
CES has also been used to treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Studies show that CES can help alcoholics to reduce their alcohol consumption as well as the stress and depression associated with quitting. The treatment plan consists of daily 30-minute sessions over a period of four weeks. Additional studies indicate that the calming effect of CES also reduces anxiety symptoms in alcoholics.
How To Find Effective Electrotherapy
This discussion of electrotherapy comes with two important caveats. The first is that home use electrotherapy mats are not proven to be effective at relieving soft tissue pain. The pain relief described here is a result of direct current being applied to the brain by clinical CES devices that are operated by physicians. Mats are not shown to achieve this result.
The second important note is that CES shuts down parts of the brain. This makes it an effective method for relieving symptoms, but like medication, it is not a cure or remedy. The advantage that CES has over medication is that CES does not elicit side effects. As FDA-approved treatments, LIDC and CES are available at clinics that specialize in trauma therapy and rehabilitation, and are likely to be covered by most insurance companies. Natural Health Advisory Institute has a searchable physician or practitioner directory where those practicing electro-stimulation therapy can be located.
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Is it the intense colors or the larger than life forms that catch my eye? Is it the light in the sky, or the simple intimacy of her work that draws me?
I am referring to the bold and beautiful artwork of Margarita Sikorskaia. I keep coming across her images and have to pause each time that I do. The first Sikorskaia painting I saw was of a dark-haired woman in a large, dark blue shawl holding her four children close. The mother exudes a sense of strength as she protects and cares for her children with both confidence and compassion.
The next painting I discovered features another large mother in a light blue dress huddled over her infant, she is either breastfeeding or cuddling her baby. In either case, this mother seems to be deeply engrossed with her babe.
These, and most of Sikorskaia’s paintings, are set outdoors under bright skies and arid landscapes. Sikorskaia was born in Russia and has lived in Minnesota since she was 22, yet the colors in her paintings reflect the classic color combinations of southwestern desert paintings of vast sunsets and stunning rock formations. Perhaps it is the intensity of emotion that links her paintings to these incredible expressions of nature.
After seeing these two images, I was curious about what else Sikorskaia had to offer. Finding her online gallery, I found more intimate moments between mothers and babies, tender times between fathers and children and passionate moments between lovers. Her work is so large in structure and form, yet so intimate in emotion. Sikorskaia’s work really began to speak to me. So I decided that I needed to speak to her.
March 4, 2014 I had the privilege of interviewing Sikorskaia. We talked about her work, her birth, the birth of her son and her thoughts on nature.
I first asked Sikorskaia about the major themes of her work. I had a long list of anticipated answers prepared, she gave me one word, Love. The love her images portray extend to herself, her friends, her family and to nature. “With giving birth, my priorities changed,” she said, “What seemed to be so important became unimportant. What was unimportant became important, such as a connection to the earth, to each other, to love.”
“I put on the canvas what I am feeling.” continued Sikorskaia. She explained that once she had given birth she had to begin making sense of who she was both as a mother and wife, but also as the woman she was before giving birth. Her intimate images between lovers depict these feelings. “After I had a child, I had a desire to remind myself of (my) body independent of a child.” She said this helped her get her sexuality back, a struggle many couples experience when a new baby arrives on the scene.
In her paintings Sikorskaia addresses not only the changes she experienced in motherhood, but also the changes she saw in the men around her. Of her paintings of big men holding small babies, Sikorskaia said she wanted to capture the emotion she saw in men’s faces as they would pass around her baby. “'I am a strong man holding this precious thing in my arms'...it transforms a macho man into a protector and a magical creature,” said Sikorskaia.
As her son’s birth brought Sikorskaia plenty of inspiration for her work, I asked for her son’s birth story. Her son was born on March 8th, internationally known as Women’s Day, after an 11 hour labor. She was at a birth center and had wanted to give birth in the water, “but I was so relaxed that my labor stopped, and so I got out.” She was told to lie down but explained that it was so uncomfortable she had to get up. Sikorskaia said that after several hours of labor, she was worried her midwife and birth team would want to interfere. “But they were so patient and there was nothing to worry about. And I was so thankful for that” she said. In her final reflections of her son’s birth, Sikorskaia said, “actually gravity helps. I tell everyone I know to use gravity to assist.”
I asked Sikorskaia if her Russian heritage had any impact on her attitudes towards birth. Like everything else, “Russian birth is changing rapidly,” she said. But Sikorskaia followed that comment with, “One-hundred percent, I am a Russian birth mom. Labor is just a part of life you go through. You just sit down or lay down and have a baby. I delivered on all fours." The story of her own birth carries the same casual tone. She explained that her parents had guests over and when they left her mother began to tidy up as she realized it was time to have the baby. Sikorkaia’s mother and father then walked to the birth center, which Sikorskaia made clear to distinguish was separate from the hospital in Russia. As men weren’t welcome in birth rooms at that time, Sikorskaia’s father walked home and was notified that his daughter had been born by the time he got there.
While both birth stories took place indoors, Sikorskaia said she tries to keep her characters in a natural environment, “where they belong.” She explained that the human experience often leaves us feeling disconnected. But being in nature helps us feel connected and allows us to be in the moment. “I like the beauty of the vastness (of nature), you can be the only figure and not feel lonely,” she said. Sikorskaia continued by explaining that when her outdoor characters are "embracing, kissing, holding,” they display “love and affection, being in the moment, a sense of peace.”
Sikorskaia’s work has certainly raptured me and transports me to those very particular moments that make up the beauty of a mother’s experience. Although the emotions she has expressed are frozen in time by oil pastels, Sikorskaia’s paintings have still more stories to tell. “When people look at my paintings and tell me what they see, I really like what they see,” said Sikorskia,“and it expands the painting. If they put their own story on it, it makes the painting bigger.”
Take a moment to browse Sikorskaia’s work, what stories can you tell to make her paintings bigger? Please share.
The following article is reposted with permission from the Pesticide Action Network.
Pesticide drift can lead to serious medical consequences, so it's important to take all incidents seriously and immediately seek medical attention. In addition to affecting people, pesticide drift can damage ecosystems, pets and wildlife, and cause economic harm by contaminating crops and poisoning livestock. It is important that all drift incidents are promptly reported, even if no damage is apparent.
If pesticides drift onto you or your neighbors, you should:
- Evacuate the area, warn your neighbors and seek medical attention.
- If you were hit with spray drift (droplets or dust particles) that contacted your skin, shower as soon after exposure as you can.
- If you experience any symptoms of pesticide exposure, immediately see a doctor or call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Call for help. Once you are in a safe location, notify the appropriate authorities of the incident (see below). If you feel your life is in danger, call 911.
Always Report Pesticide Drift
Regardless of whether people were directly exposed to pesticide drift or any ecological damage or economic harm is immediately visible, it’s important to promptly report every drift incident to the agency responsible for pesticide enforcement. The appropriate agency varies by state, but it is typically the office of the County Agricultural Commissioner.
You should report the incident to both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and to your state agency:
- The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) will report pesticide incidents to the U.S. EPA. Call 1-800-858-7378 from 8:00AM - 12:00PM PST.
- Each state has an agency for reporting pesticide. Find your state on the NPIC webpage, and call the appropriate agency to have them record a report.
In California, calling 1-877-378-5463 should connect you with the appropriate office. If you seek medical attention, be sure to tell the doctor that pesticides are involved or suspected. In addition to helping the doctor diagnose and treat you, this will ensure that the incident is counted in official tallies, since many states require doctors and veterinarians to report cases of suspected pesticide poisoning incidents to the state.
It’s important to notify authorities as soon as possible, and to ask for a formal investigation and pesticide sampling on affected properties. This is because pesticide residue can degrade quickly, and samples should be taken as soon as possible if they are yield conclusive results. Write down all of the details of the exposure before you forget anything, including the time and date of the incident, what happened that led to the exposure, and the location of the application site and neighboring buildings.
The Drift Catcher
In our work with communities on the ground, PAN leases or sells Drift Catchers to select groups. For advice on alternative ways to detect drift, read Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass. You can also contact us or check out a list of pesticides the Drift Catcher can detect.
There is a commitment involved in conducting a Drift Catching study as a PAN community partner:
Driftcatching Takes People, Time and Money
While the Drift Catcher is simple to use, there is a time investment involved with taking samples and running the study, so it is best to have a group from your community working together. Anyone participating in Drift Catching studies must attend a training so that they can be certified in using the Drift Catcher. Group members must also be available to take samples when pesticide applications are occurring in the area.
The Drift Catcher is leased on a yearly basis to community groups. PAN selects these groups based on our current campaign goals. Leasing costs for the Drift Catcher are $200 per year. Sample analysis costs are high, typically ranging from $125 to $255 per sample. PAN may be able to help you find funding, or provide some support.
PAN often works with communities in the Midwest and California, but has partnered with groups from other areas in the past. Examples of previous Drift Catching projects include:
- Communities in Illinois
- Communities in Iowa
- Communities in Minnesota
- Hastings, FL
- Hawai'i SEED
- Sisquoc, CA
- Tehama, CA
Photo by Fotolia