The Biden administration has again delayed enacting a ban on menthol cigarettes following intense lobbying from the tobacco industry. Along with that pressure, other critics of the ban have warned that it might anger Black smokers, who use menthol cigarettes at far higher rates than whites — just as President Biden gears up to run for re-election, administration officials told the Washington Post. The delay, which was posted Wednesday, now says officials plan to finalize rules to put the ban in place in March. Officials had originally planned to finalize the rules last August and later signaled to public health groups that they hoped to finish them by January, the Post reported. Still, the ban would not likely go into effect for several years because of the legal challenges that many expect will come. But anti-smoking advocates aren’t waiting to push passage of the ban. Karen Knudsen, chief executive of the American Cancer Society, said her organization is among a coalition of public health associations that this month will take out ads in national newspapers, send letters to lawmakers and use other measures to push the Biden administration to finalize the rule sooner rather than later. “The cost of inaction is high,” Knudsen told the Post, citing projections that a ban on menthol cigarettes would save up to 650,000 lives over the next four decades. Many of the lives…  read on >  read on >

In a win for telemedicine, new research shows that folks fighting high cholesterol benefit just as much from online coaching as they do from in-person visits with a dietitian. “This study reinforces the idea that comparable clinical outcomes can be achieved using the virtual format,” said lead researcher Dr. Shannon Zoulek, a resident physician at University of Michigan Health. “Improving cholesterol levels may reduce cardiovascular events, and having additional options to access treatment will benefit patients who seek treatment,” Zoulek added in a Michigan news release. More than 20% of American adults are currently using telemedicine, taking their health appointments online rather than traveling to an office, the researchers said in background notes. For the study, the investigators tracked more than 250 patients seen by a registered dietitian between early 2019 and late 2022 at the Preventative Cardiology Clinic of the University of Michigan’s Frankel Cardiovascular Center. Around one in five patients opted for a virtual visit, while the rest had face-to-face visits with their dietitian, the researchers said.  Patients who received this diet coaching experienced significant declines in their “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, both of which decrease the risk of heart disease. In the end, the researchers found no significant difference in results between telemedicine and in-person visits. The new study was published recently in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology. “Access to nutrition…  read on >  read on >

In sickness and in health — and in blood pressure, too? A new international study finds that if your blood pressure rises with time, your spouse’s might, also. “Many people know that high blood pressure is common in middle-aged and older adults, yet we were surprised to find that among many older couples, both husband and wife had high blood pressure in the U.S., England, China and India,” said study senior author Dr. Chihua Li, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan. “For instance, in the U.S., among more than 35% of couples who were ages 50 or older, both had high blood pressure,” Li said in a news release from the American Heart Association (AHA). Li’s team published its findings Dec. 6 in the Journal of the American Heart Association. High blood pressure is a common complaint among Americans, and the risk of hypertension rises with age. According to the AHA, almost half (about 47%) of adult Americans had high blood pressure in 2020, and it contributed to 120,000 deaths that year. In the new study, Li and colleagues looked at rates of high blood pressure among nearly 34,000 heterosexual couples worldwide: 4,000 U.S. couples, 1,100 couples in England, more than 6,500 Chinese couples and over 22,000 Indian couples. Data was collected between 2015 and 2019, depending on the country. High blood pressure…  read on >  read on >

Folks with a family history of heart disease might benefit from eating more oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, a new study finds. Oily fish contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from the diet. People’s risk of heart disease increased by more than 40% if they had low levels of omega-3 fatty acids plus a family history of heart problems, a large international study concluded. However, if a person has adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids, their family heart history increased their risk by just 25%. The results show that heathy habits can overcome genetic risk in some cases, researchers said. “The study suggests that those with a family history of cardiovascular disease have more to gain from eating more oily fish than others,” said lead researcher Karin Leander, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to a stronger immune system, reduced inflammation, lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol counts, according to the American Heart Association. For the study, Leander and her colleagues pooled data from more than 40,000 people, nearly 8,000 of whom developed heart problems like unstable angina, heart attack, cardiac arrest and stroke. Levels of omega-3 fatty acids were measured in all study participants. These levels are a…  read on >  read on >

Hispanic women who experience spikes in blood pressure while pregnant may also face higher heart risks years later, new research shows. These “hypertensive disorders of pregnancy” (HDP) — conditions such as preeclampsia, eclampsia and gestational hypertension — may even have a greater role to play in certain heart risks than regular high blood pressure, the researchers noted. “These findings emphasize the importance of recognizing HDP as an important risk factor for these future problems,” said researcher Jasmina Varagic. She’s a program officer in the Vascular Biology and Hypertension branch at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health. According to Varagic’s team, rates of HDP more than doubled among pregnant women in the United States between 2007 and 2019. The increase was highest among pregnant Hispanic women, resulting in 60 cases of some form of hypertensive disorder per every 1,000 live births. High blood pressure during pregnancy does not bode well for blood pressure long after the baby is born, the researchers noted. Prior studies have shown that HDP raises the odds of having chronic high blood pressure 10-fold. In the new study, Varagic’s group tracked the health of nearly 5,200 Hispanic women who’d had at least one child and who averaged about 59 years of age. The researchers took special scans of each woman’s heart, looking at…  read on >  read on >

A new study of identical twins has provided fresh evidence that a vegan diet can vastly improve a person’s heart health. Twins assigned a vegan diet for two months had significant improvements in cholesterol, insulin and body weight compared to their siblings, who ate a healthy diet that included animal protein. “Based on these results and thinking about longevity, most of us would benefit from going to a more plant-based diet,” said researcher Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. It’s well-known that cutting back on meat consumption improves heart health, but differences between participants in diet studies — things like genetics, upbringing and lifestyle choices — make it hard for researchers to draw definitive conclusions. Gardner and his colleagues chose to study identical twins because they share the same genetics, grew up in the same household and often have similar lifestyles. “Not only did this study provide a groundbreaking way to assert that a vegan diet is healthier than the conventional omnivore diet, but the twins were also a riot to work with,” Gardner noted in a university news release. “They dressed the same, they talked the same and they had a banter between them that you could have only if you spent an inordinate amount of time together.” The research team recruited 22 pairs of identical twins…  read on >  read on >