Thursday, January 15, 2009

Preventing a heart attack: There's new, good news

The New York Times -- still the best read in journalism -- gets the most hits on its website whenever the topic is health and avoiding the pitfalls of aging and early death.

Baby Boomers rule ... as long as we keep regular. Metamucil, anyone?

So the latest eye-opener on preventing the first attack has an interesting new finding on the kind of blood work your doctor should be doing on you to tell where you stand in the race to prevent a coronary catastrophe.

The story is actually good news, along with affirmation of the wisdom of a low-fat diet and steady exercise lifestyle.

But this new factor may allow for a little more fatty eating and a little less exercise in busy schedules. Here is a part of what The Times had to report today. Go to its website at for the story in the "most read" box.

It is worth your time and your health to read this information. Avoiding the first attack is critical to living a longer life for your family. And review my earlier post on the 11 food items were missing in our diets to reduce cancer and heart disease risks. That was taken from the most read item in 2008 on The Times website.

The Times reports:

The well-established risk factors for heart disease remain intact: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, abdominal obesity and sedentary living.

But behind them a relatively new factor has emerged that may be even more important as a cause of heart attacks than, say, high blood levels of artery-damaging cholesterol.

That factor is C-reactive protein, or CRP, a blood-borne marker of inflammation that, along with coagulation factors, is now increasingly recognized as the driving force behind clots that block blood flow to the heart. Yet patients are rarely tested for CRP, even if they already have heart problems.

Even in people with normal cholesterol, if CRP is elevated, the risk of heart attack is too, said Dr. Michael Ozner, medical director of the Cardiovascular Prevention Institute of South Florida. He thinks that when people have their cholesterol checked, they should also be tested for high-sensitivity CRP.

Diet Revisited

The new dietary advice is actually based on a rather old finding that predates the mantra to eat a low-fat diet. In the Seven Countries Study started in 1958 and first published in 1970, Dr. Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota and co-authors found that heart disease was rare in the Mediterranean and Asian regions where vegetables, grains, fruits, beans and fish were the dietary mainstays. But in countries like Finland and the United States where plates were typically filled with red meat, cheese and other foods rich in saturated fats, heart disease and cardiac deaths were epidemic.

The finding resulted in the well-known advice to reduce dietary fat and especially saturated fats (those that are firm at room temperature), and to replace these harmful fats with unsaturated ones like vegetable oils. What was missed at the time and has now become increasingly apparent is that the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet is not really low in fat, but its main sources of fat — olive oil and oily fish as well as nuts, seeds and certain vegetables — help to prevent heart disease by improving cholesterol ratios and reducing inflammation.

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