IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  December 1, 2005

Eat Fish For a Healthy Heart

By now almost everyone knows that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish protect the heart by lowering cholesterol.

There's more to it than that. Several studies show that fish that are fried, or coated with batter and French fried, do not protect the heart. Instead, they tend to decrease heart health by increasing cholesterol levels.

Part of the problem with fish sticks and French fried fish could be the type of fish that is usually used. They are predominantly made from white fish or cod, which have very low levels of omega-3s.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School studied ultrasound images of the hearts of 5,000 men and women. Subjects also filled out a questionnaire about their diets. After allowing for other factors that are known to affect the heart, researchers found that those who regularly ate fried fish and fish sandwiches showed greater signs of heart and blood vessel disease.

Study participants who frequently ate broiled or baked fish had lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, and better blood flow to the heart.
Broiled or baked fish tends to be varieties such as salmon or tuna, which are high in omega-3s.

Another study showed that people age 65 or older who ate baked or broiled fish one to four times a week had a 27 percent lower rate of ischemic stroke. Those who ate fried fish had a 44 percent greater risk of ischemic stroke, according to the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.


Over 40? Save Your Vision

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 40. By age 60, about one fourth of adults show evidence of AMD. About 90 percent of them have the less serious "dry" AMD.

It causes gradual vision loss as cells in the macula slowly break down.

Everyone should be screened for AMD at age 40 and every five years thereafter. After 65, annual screenings are best.

Early AMD is not treated and doesn't affect vision, but it progresses. Detection of intermediate AMD is important. At that stage, you can benefit from a daily vitamin and mineral supplement.

A study reported by Johns Hopkins Medical Centers shows that participants reduced by 25 percent their risk of advanced "dry" AMD by taking a daily supplement. It contained 500 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15 mg vitamin A, 80 mg zinc oxide, and 2 mg cupric oxide.

Similar supplements are available over the counter and can be taken in addition to other multivitamins. One brand is Ocuvite PreserVision. Ask your doctor if a supplement is right for you.


Midlife Exercise Brings Greater Fitness

The level of fitness people have declines with every decade of life.

Aerobic capacity translates into fitness. It's the amount of oxygen consumed while exercising.

Researchers for the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute have found that exercising to increase aerobic capacity has its benefits throughout life. Though a decline in capacity is inevitable with each passing decade, aerobic exercise counteracts part of the decline.

In the study, subjects in their 20s and 30s had an aerobic decline of 3 to 6 percent per decade. Those in their 70s experienced a 20 percent decline per decade. Study subjects were men and women ages 21 to 87. They were tested every four years.

All of that decline is not unavoidable, however. People who raise their capacity by 5 percent in a decade where it normally decreases 10 percent, for example, would then have only a five percent decrease.

If they increase aerobic capacity by 5 percent in the next decade, they really have made a significant stride toward fitness in later life.

Exercising can't hold off the effects of aging, but it can reduce them. It can increase an elderly person's chances of having an independent lifestyle.


Laxative Use is OK

Reports from the American Journal of Gastroenterology indicate that, contrary to popular belief, long-term laxative use is probably OK.

The advice against long-term use is based on concern about damage to intestinal nerves and muscles. There is no evidence that it actually causes this damage.


Colonoscopy is Better

New studies appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine indicate that for people over age 50, a colonoscopy done every 10 years is the best method for avoiding colon cancer.

The study showed that the sigmoidoscopy can miss up to 2/3 of polyps in women over age 50. These polyps were found higher in the intestines than a sigmoidoscope can reach.

Also recommended for people over age 50 is an annual fecal occult blood test. Together with the colonoscopy every 10 years, these steps greatly reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Hypertension Treatment

High blood pressure is the greatest risk factor for stroke. In a study of 16,648 people reported by Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, about half were receiving treatment for hypertension. In spite of treatment, however, their blood pressure was not under control. It averaged 160/100 mm Hg. That is high above the recommended 120/80

During the six years of the study, 137 of the men and women involved had strokes. Their average blood pressure was 140/90

To avoid stroke, doctors recommend having blood pressure checked. If medication is prescribed, check back to see if it is working well enough.

Prediabetes Program

Researchers and doctors are working to identify people with prediabetes and to develop a program to keep them from full-blown diabetes.

Doctors and researchers from Emory University, the University of Michigan, and the Department of Health and Human Services have developed a pilot program. It is being used in five states to identify prediabetics and to treat them.

The goal of this ambitious program is to develop a protocol for prevention that could become a national standard.

About 18 million Americans have diabetes; 95 percent have Type 2


Reading First Step For Mild Depression

In an experimental program, doctors in 12 countries that make up the United Kingdom are recommending reading as the first step in their treatment of mild depression.

The U.S. is watching the program carefully because of concerns about the overuse of antidepressant drugs. In many cases, however, prescribing drugs is the doctor's only option.

The U.K. program has two goals. First, it keeps patients from being overmedicated. Sometimes people are prescribed antidepressant drugs when other methods could work as well.

The second goal is cost saving. The state-run medical system can't afford one-on-one counseling for everyone. Those who really need it could be in for a wait of as long as 18 months.

The U.K. program has been approved by the British agency, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. The programs are called "bibleotherapy" or "guided self-help." The programs free up counselors so they can work with seriously depressed people or those with mental illnesses.

Recommended reading includes Overcoming Depression by Paul Gilbert (Oxford Press) The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns (Pruis) and Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky (Guilford Press)


Pessimistic and Negative

Type D is new heart-risk personality type.

It was about 30 years ago that personality types were graded for increased cardiovascular risk.

Type A is a high energy, competitive person who can be angry or hostile.

Type B is a relaxed, low-energy person who is not easily provoked.

Type C suppresses emotions, avoids conflict, and tries to be nice.

Now comes the type D. D is for distressed. This person has a high level of negativity, is pessimistic, and doesn't share his feelings and emotions. The type D also worries a lot, which elevates the heart rate during sleep. As the heart works harder, cardiovascular risk is increased.

Before you start worrying about yourself, remember that personality typing has not always proved to be an accurate measure of risk. Over time, type A personalities had no greater heart disease risk than type Cs. And the calm type Bs did not have a lower risk. Type D, however, is turning out to be more indicative.

That's especially true of people who already have heart disease. Doctors at Duke University found a five-year survival rate of 50 percent for those who didn't have a close confidant or spouse. Not communicating is typical for type Ds.

Among those who had someone to confide in, the five-year survival rate was 82 percent.

A 2004 study found that type Ds who had stents implanted to keep arteries open were four times more likely than average to die or have a heart attack within the next nine months.

If you think you're a type D, the best thing you can do for yourself is to stop worrying and reduce stress in your life, say doctors at Harvard Medical School.

They recommend exercise and stress reduction techniques like meditation.


Yogurt Steps in for Dairy

Dairy foods are often a diet ingredient, but what if you are lactose intolerant?

People who are lactose intolerant can almost always eat flavored or plain yogurt without any bad effects. The good news for them is that yogurt works in the same way that milk and cheese do in weight loss plans.

In one study, women who reduced calories by 500 a day, and ate yogurt three times a day, lost 3.6 pounds in 12-weeks, and they trimmed their waistlines by 1.5 inches.

Antidepressant Withdrawal

About one in 10 adult Americans take antidepressants for a wide variety of reasons. Also known as SSRIs, they include Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro, and Zoloft.

Though some people take them for many years, others decide to stop because their lives have improved or because they wanted a different treatment. Some stop because of side effects such as sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and insomnia.

But quitting isn't easy, Withdrawal symptoms can include dreaming, dizziness, diarrhea, and suicidal thoughts.

People taking antidepressants should always discuss quitting with their doctors. Most doctors prescribe weaker and weaker doses in order to avoid or reduce the withdrawal symptoms.

Eliminate HDL/LDL Confusion

If you're like a lot of other people, you have to stop and think whether HDL or LDL is the good cholesterol.

Doctors writing in The New England Journal of Medicine's HealthNews say you will be confused no longer if you make this association.

HDL, think "Healthy DL."

LDL, think "Lousy DL"

HDL moves excess cholesterol back to the liver for processing. It's thought of as the blood's cleanup crew.

LDL, the lousy kind. It deposits excesses of itself on the walls of arteries, which increases your risk of heart disease.