New research sheds light on why some people’s blood pressure is especially sensitive to salt. The research team previously discovered that a natural gene variation that occurs in 48 percent of people increases a person’s chances of having blood pressure that’s sensitive to salt. Their new study revealed how this gene variant prevents the body from eliminating excess salt. The gene variant causes a sodium (salt) transporter called NBCe2 to overwork, bringing too much sodium filtered in the kidney back into the body, particularly after a high-salt meal. That means that consuming too much salt could be especially dangerous for people with this gene variant. Blood pressure that’s sensitive to salt can be difficult to diagnose and treat, according to the researchers, because about 14 percent of people can have normal blood pressure and still be salt-sensitive. About three out of 10 people are sensitive to salt and their inability to eliminate excess salt puts them at increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and blindness, according to study senior author Robin Felder, from the department of pathology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and colleagues. “It’s important for the body to get rid of excess sodium because having too much sodium in the body causes the body to retain water, which can raise blood pressure and significantly shorten one’s lifespan,” Felder…  read on >

The crunchy goodness of peanuts, walnuts, cashews and other nuts may be just what the cardiologist ordered, new research suggests. The study couldn’t prove cause-and-effect. However, the analysis of health data on more than 61,000 Swedes aged 45 and older found regularly eating nuts was tied to lower risks for heart failure and an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation (“a-fib”). One U.S. heart expert said it’s fine to include the food in your diet. “There certainly is no harm, as nuts — in moderation — are a healthy sort of protein compared to other diets and possibly can be associated with better cardiovascular health,” said Dr. Rachel Bond. She helps direct women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. In the new study, a team led by Susanna Larsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm tracked the health of the study participants for 17 years or until death, whichever came first. After factoring out age and gender, along with several other well-known heart risk factors — lifestyle, overall diet, diabetes and family history — high nut consumption was tied to lower odds for a-fib and heart failure. The more often people ate nuts, the lower their risk of a-fib, the investigators found. Specifically, the risk of the stroke-linked heart rhythm disorder was 3 percent lower among those who ate nuts one…  read on >

It’s no secret that weight gain results from consuming too many calories. But at its core is an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy habits. On one side of the scale — the healthy side — are foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and plant-based fats. On the other side are the not-so-healthy options — sugary foods, those high in saturated fats, and packaged and processed foods. It’s not just the foods, though, that can cause weight issues. Unhealthy behaviors play a role, too. That’s because they can lead you to take in more calories, sometimes without even realizing it. A group of researchers in Spain identified key habits that promote a poor-quality diet. Things like frequenting fast-food restaurants, snacking from vending machines and eating while watching TV. But the researchers also determined that significant weight gain usually isn’t due to just one bad habit, but rather to a combination. To learn more, they followed 1,600 people for up to four years, focusing on the effects of seven specific unhealthy habits: Not planning how much you’re going to eat. Consuming pre-cooked or canned food. Buying snacks. Eating in fast-food restaurants. Not choosing low-calorie foods. Not removing visible fat from meat or skin from chicken. Eating while watching TV or sitting on the sofa. The more of these unhealthy habits people had, the…  read on >

Forget what a hot chili pepper can do to your stomach: A new case report suggests that eating some of the hottest ones may give you a headache that can send you to the emergency room. A young man was taking part in a hot chili pepper eating contest and ate a particularly potent type called the Carolina Reaper, according to doctors from Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, N.Y. Some call the Reaper the world’s hottest chili pepper. The man immediately suffered dry heaves and over the next several days experienced intense neck pain and headaches, each of which lasted just a few seconds. After finally seeking emergency care, the man was tested for a number of neurological conditions, but all the results came back negative. However, a CT scan revealed that several arteries in the man’s brain had narrowed, leading to a diagnosis of thunderclap headache due to reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS). The syndrome doesn’t always have an obvious cause, but can occur as a reaction to certain prescription medications or illegal drugs, according to the report in the April 9 issue of the journal BMJ Case Reports. The researchers said this is the first such case linked with eating hot chili peppers, but they noted that consuming cayenne pepper has long been associated with a sudden narrowing of the coronary artery and…  read on >

Whether you want to lose weight, maintain your weight or just eat healthily, you need to know about protein. Protein in the foods you eat helps build and maintain your bones, muscles and skin. However, you need to consume protein every day because your body doesn’t store it the same as it stores carbohydrates and fats. Most adults should eat 5 to 7 ounces of protein daily, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Knowing the best sources of protein can boost your health as well as help you feel more satisfied on fewer calories. But, you need to choose carefully. Seafood is an excellent source of protein. Your options are many, with dozens of types of protein-rich fish and shellfish to try. Aim to eat a five-ounce serving at least twice every week. And, for even more benefits, try to include fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and trout. Omega-3s can help reduce risk factors for heart disease, such as cholesterol and blood pressure. Chicken and turkey are great protein foods, too. For the healthiest approach, remove the skin before eating. Keep in mind, too, that breast meat has less fat — and therefore fewer calories — than dark meat. Including particular vegetables on your menus will ensure you get even more protein. Try beans and peas — kidney, pinto,…  read on >

Science says you can get your coffee buzz without fear of cancer, so experts say you can forget that recent controversial California law. Last Wednesday, a Los Angeles judge ruled that coffee shops such as Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts must caution customers that coffee contains acrylamide — a potential cancer-causing chemical that forms as a byproduct of roasting. Acrylamide is also found in fried foods such as french fries, and in cigarette smoke. Finding on behalf of the plaintiff, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, Judge Elihu Berle said that coffee companies failed to prove that the amount of acrylamide in coffee was safe — or that coffee has health benefits. But Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said coffee lovers still have grounds to stick with the beverage. The judge’s decision may follow the law, Lichtenfeld said, but it stands in opposition to the science on the subject. “To me, this whole issue is really much more legal than medical,” he said. In large quantities, acrylamide is a known cancer-causing chemical according to results from tests with rodents, Lichtenfeld explained. Based on these tests, acrylamide is also likely carcinogenic in humans when consumed in large amounts, he said. However, the key issue is dosage. “There is no good human evidence to show the amount of acrylamide…  read on >

Less than 40 percent of American adults with extremely high cholesterol levels get the medications they should, a new study finds. Researchers examined federal government data to assess rates of awareness, screening and the use of cholesterol-lowering statins among adults aged 20 and older with extremely high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. The investigators also looked at a subgroup of patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic disorder that causes extremely high cholesterol that increases the risk of early heart disease. Rates of cholesterol screening and awareness were high (more than 80 percent) among adults with definite/probable familial hypercholesterolemia and extremely high cholesterol, but only 38 percent of them took statins. Of those who took statins, only 30 percent of patients with extremely high cholesterol had been prescribed a high-intensity statin. Patients in the study least likely to be taking statins included those who were younger, uninsured, and without a regular source of health care. “Young adults may be less likely to think that they are at risk of cardiovascular disease, and clinicians may be less likely to initiate statin therapy in this population,” wrote lead author Dr. Emily Bucholz, who’s with the department of medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It is possible that lifestyle modifications continue to be prescribed as an initial treatment prior to initiating statin therapy,” she added. The findings were published March…  read on >

Pet owners care deeply about what their furry family members eat. So should they worry about a new study that finds chemical preservatives known as parabens are often in dog and cat food, as well as in urine samples from the animals? Maybe, researchers say, though there’s no need to panic. “Parabens are reported as endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” said the study’s senior author, Kurunthachalam Kannan. These preservatives can interfere with hormones and may have harmful effects on developmental, reproductive and neurological systems, explained Kannan. He’s with the New York state Department of Health’s division of environmental health sciences. But the levels of parabens and their by-products found in pets are low, according to the new study. “The current exposure levels of parabens and their metabolites in cats and dogs are 100- to 1,000-fold less than the tolerable daily intake limits,” Kannan said. However, the safe levels were based on research in humans, and it’s possible that pets are more sensitive, he added. The researchers pointed out that diseases — such as diabetes, kidney diseases and thyroid problems — have been rising in pets that primarily stay indoors compared to those who live outside exclusively. And some scientists have proposed that chemical exposures in the home could play a role in these illnesses. So far, no studies have confirmed any harmful effects from paraben exposure, according to…  read on >

U.S. war veterans who sustained severe combat wounds and have chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at increased risk for high blood pressure, a new study says. The study included nearly 3,900 military veterans who had been severely wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan from February 2002 to February 2011. Their average age when they were wounded was 26. More than 14 percent of the veterans developed high blood pressure at least 90 days after being wounded. The severity of the injuries and how frequently PTSD was noted in their medical records after the wounding separately affected their risk for high blood pressure. “What we found surprised us,” said study senior author Dr. Ian Stewart, a major at the U.S. Air Force Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in California. For every 5-point increase on a 75-point injury severity score, the risk for high blood pressure rose 5 percent. Veterans with an injury severity score of 25 or lower and no recorded PTSD diagnosis had the lowest risk for high blood pressure, according to the study. Compared with veterans with no PTSD diagnosis, the risk for high blood pressure was 85 percent higher among those who had PTSD noted one to 15 times in their medical records — indicating chronic PTSD. High blood pressure was 114 percent more likely among veterans with PTSD noted more…  read on >

(HealthDay News) — Eating one serving of green leafy vegetables per day is associated with slower age-related cognitive decline, recent research suggests. Reported in the journal Neurology — the study involved 960 adults with an average age of 81 and no sign of dementia. The difference between those who ate the greens and those who did not was equivalent to being 11 years younger cognitively. The vegetables eaten included kale, spinach and collards, which are rich sources of cognition-supporting folate, phylloquinone, nitrate, α-tocopherol, kaempferol and lutein, said the researchers at Chicago’s Rush University and Boston’s Tufts Human Nutrition Research Center.