What 92% of Women Don’t Know About Screening for Heart Disease

Very few women are aware of the right age to start screening for heart disease, the leading cause of death in American women, according to a new national survey by Orlando Health. Despite a recommendation by the American Heart Association to begin heart screenings at age 20, only 8% of the women polled thought these crucial heart health checkups should start in their 20s. On average, women polled thought that right age to start screening was 41, two decades later.

This is a wake-up call that women shouldn’t wait until they’re 40 to pay attention to their heart risks. Heart disease can start to develop when women are in their teens or early 20s. Without treatment, it often silently damages arteries until it gets severe enough to cause a heart attack or stroke. Here’s a look at the best ways for young women to be checked for hidden signs of heart disease, which can be prevented, stabilized or even reversed with the science-based BaleDoneen Method, as two peer-reviewed studies show.

  • Blood pressure. Sixty-seven million Americans–about one in three adults–have high blood pressure (a reading of 140/90 or higher), and 70 million have pre-hypertension (a reading of 120/80 to 139/89). Although elevated blood pressure is the leading risk for stroke and a major contributor to heart disease, many people who have it aren’t aware of their condition or don’t have under control. Yet high blood pressure is highly treatable with weight loss, dietary and lifestyle changes and in many cases, medications. A large study found that for each 10 mm hG drop in blood pressure, heart attack risk fell by 50%!
  • Cholesterol. Most patients assume that the standard cholesterol test known as “a lipid profile” or “coronary risk panel” checks for all forms of dangerous cholesterol that raise heart attack and stroke risk. However, most healthcare providers don’t test patients for a common inherited-cholesterol disorder: elevated levels of lipoprotein (a), a type of cholesterol that triples risk for heart attacks. Statins don’t work well for this disorder, but it can treated with niacin (vitamin B) and other therapies. This test only needs to done once in a lifetime.
  • Blood sugar. It’s very common for people to be diagnosed with diabetes or insulin resistance (IR), a pre-diabetic condition, shortly after they suffer a heart attack. While these conditions may sound unrelated, actually IR is the underlying cause of 70% of heart attacks. BaleDoneen and other studies show that the most accurate screening test for IR and diabetes is the 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). In the time it would take you watch a movie, you can find out if you have IR, which can often be treated or reversed with lifestyle changes.
  • Waist measurement. A waistline measuring more than 35 inches for a woman is one of the leading indicators of metabolic syndrome (a dangerous cluster of heart attack risks). Talk to your medical provider about the best exercise-and-weight-loss plan to slim your waist–and reduce risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes.
  • Carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT). This noninvasive 15-minute, FDA-approved test uses ultrasound to measure the thickness of the lining of the largest artery in your neck–and can also detect arterial plaque (disease). A recent study of 13,000 people found that adding carotid thickness and plaque to traditional heart risk factors significantly improved the accuracy of 10-year risk predictions for heart attack and stroke.
  • Genetic testing. About 50% of Americans carry one or more genes that raise risk for heart attacks. If you have a family history of heart disease or diabetes, discuss genetic testing with your medical provider. In addition, your DNA can also help guide the best diet-and-exercise plan to optimize your heart health, as discussed more fully in the bestselling BaleDoneen book, Beat the Heart Attack Gene: The Revolutionary Plan to Prevent Heart Disease, Stroke and Diabetes.

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Is Targeting Brain Inflammation the Key to Preventing Alzheimer’s and Stroke?

Cholesterol has been demonized as the No. 1 threat to heart, brain and arterial health. Then a growing body of evidence began to zero in on another villain. “The four horsemen of the medical apocalypse — coronary artery disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s — may be riding the same steed: inflammation,” a Harvard paper theorized in 2006. Since then, recent landmark studies have shown that chronic systemic inflammation, which we call “fire,” is both a cause of heart attacks and strokes and an important treatment target to help prevent them.

In 2017, the CANTOS trial generated worldwide headlines by reporting that therapies to lower inflammation — without lowering cholesterol — reduced risk for cardiovascular events and cancer by up to 50 percent. An even newer landmark study by 24 of the world’s top experts on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other forms of dementia, published in Lancet, was the first to report that these memory-robbing brain disorders may be preventable with strategies that include reducing brain inflammation. Here is a look at the latest discoveries and how to use them to keep your brain healthy and your memory sharp.

What is chronic inflammation and why is it so dangerous?

Inflammation is a normally protective response to injury and infection. If you stepped on a rusty nail, cells in the affected area would mobilize immune system troops to battle the invading bacteria. Called “the inflammatory cascade,” this call to arms involves more than 20 proteins that blast the invaders with toxins to kill them.

Chronic inflammation harms rather than heals because the immune system attack never stops. The result is like being shot by “friendly fire” in an endless war raging within the body. In 2012, two landmark studies published in Lancet were the first to show that chronic inflammation actually causes cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading killer of Americans. This fiery process has been linked to so many other deadly or debilitating conditions that some scientists call it “the root of all diseases.”

Heart attacks and strokes are triggered when a diseased artery becomes so inflamed that it can no longer contain the plaque smoldering inside. Like a volcano spewing molten lava, inflammation causes a breech in the artery wall, leading to the formation of a clot. If the clot blocks blood flow to the brain, the result is an ischemic (clot-induced) stroke. If the clot obstructs flow in a coronary artery, the result is a heart attack.

Who is at greatest risk for developing chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation is fueled by such lifestyle-related disorders as obesity or having a large waistline, smoking, stress, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, insulin resistance and poor oral health. A landmark, peer-reviewed BaleDoneen study, published in Postgraduate Medical Journal, was the first to identify high-risk oral bacteria from periodontal disease (PD) — and the systemic inflammation they cause — as a contributing cause of arterial disease.

Also known as “gum disease,” PD is a chronic oral infection that affects the majority of Americans over age 30, many of whom are undiagnosed and unaware of their cardiovascular danger. A 2016 analysis that pooled results from studies of more than 7,000 people found that those with infected gums were 2½ times more likely to suffer heart attacks as those with healthy gums — and other studies have found similar links with heightened risk for stroke.

How does brain inflammation contribute to Alzheimer’s disease?

Inflammation and oxidative stress have also been linked to the buildup of brain deposits of beta-amyloid. Many scientists believe that accumulation of this sticky compound in the brain is the primary cause of AD, with the buildup initially disrupting communication between neurons and ultimately killing them.

According to this theory, known as “the amyloid hypothesis,” the development of the amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of AD activates immune cells, leading to inflammation that eventually destroys brain cells.

What are the best ways to protect your memory and reduce inflammation?

In the Lancet paper cited above, the researchers concluded that up to 35 percent of dementia cases could be prevented with nine healthy lifestyle steps. Proven strategies include the following:

Maintain a healthy weight. The researchers report that obesity raises dementia risk by up to 92 percent. Excess weight and belly fat also greatly increase risk for developing chronic inflammation.
Get checked for gum disease. A 2016 study reported that people with severe PD have a 70 percent higher risk for developing AD. Conversely, a large study of older adults found that those who took excellent care of their teeth and gums lived longer and had lower risk of CVD and other fatal diseases.
Get depression treated. The Lancet researchers report that it’s “biologically plausible” that depression could be a dementia risk because it “affects stress hormones, neuronal growth factors, and [brain] volume.” Recent studies also show that chronic inflammation plays a major role in depression.
Move more. Columbia researchers reported that older adults who exercised vigorously 1.3 hours a week were 33 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, compared to couch potatoes of the same age. Those who combined physical activity — such as jogging, hiking, or biking — with the Mediterranean diet got even greater benefit, whittling their AD risk by 60 percent over the 5½-year study.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods. Research suggests that a diet high in fruit and vegetables, with moderate amounts of omega-3 rich oily fish (such as salmon, tuna or herring), and low in red meat and sweets, helps lower risk for dementia, heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. For the best cardiovascular protection, we recommend a diet based on your DNA.
Ask your medical provider for inflammation testing. Testing patients for inflammation and treating those who have this dangerous disorder have been key parts of the BaleDoneen Method for more than a decade. We use inexpensive, widely available blood and urine tests to check for this fiery process.

https://baledoneen.com/blog/is-targeting-brain-inflammation-the-key-to-preventing-alzheimers-and-stroke

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Arteriology: A Revolutionary New Approach to Preventing and Reversing Arterial Disease

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What is arteriology? Have you heard this word before?

Decades of progress in reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading killer of Americans, CVD fatalities are on the rise, particularly among people under age 55. Indeed, middle-aged adults are more likely to die from heart attacks, strokes and other CV events now than they were in 2011. This alarming trend has prompted experts from the Johns Hopkins Ciccarrone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease to issue a call for a new medical specialty to address the changing profile of patients with arterial disease. Compared to those of the past, today’s CVD victims are younger, more overweight, much less likely to be smokers and include more women and type 2 diabetics. Many of them are unaware of their risk.

To help save lives, hearts and brains, the BaleDoneen Method has pioneered a new evidence-based medical specialty called “Arteriology,” which is designed to optimize the health of the more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels in our bodies and help people avoid heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic conditions. Here’s a look at how arteriology works — and how you can use our genetically guided, holistic approach to prevent and reverse arterial disease. We have been practicing Arteriology for nearly 20 years.

Why is a new medical specialty needed for patients with CVD?

In the call for a new medical specialty, published in the American Journal of Medicine, authors Drs. Robert Eckel and Michael Blaha report that the management of today’s heart patient is much more complex than in the past due to the epidemic of obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. All of these metabolic maladies greatly increase patients’ risk for developing CVD, yet often go undiagnosed and untreated.

In fact, as we recently reported, it is very common for people to be diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes — conditions that collectively affect about 115 million Americans — shortly after they suffer a heart attack. Most Americans have never heard of metabolic syndrome or don’t know it’s a cluster of disorders that triple risk for heart attack and stroke and quadruple it for type 2 diabetes, a national health survey reported. And only 0.6% of those polled thought they had this prediabetic condition. In reality, it affects 26% of adults — nearly 50 million Americans.

Although the number of patients with cardiometabolic disorders is skyrocketing due to Americans’ increasingly unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle, Drs. Eckel and Blaha report that “nearly all cardiology practices are poorly suited” to manage the care of these patients. As a result, patients may be “shunted back and forth among cardiologist, endocrinologist and primary care physician — with uncertain ‘ownership’ of different aspects of the patient’s care.” In other words, the situation is like a football team without a quarterback.

What’s the best way to fix this dangerous gap in our healthcare system?

Despite major advances in the diagnosis and treatment of CVD, it remains the leading killer of Americans. On average, it claims 2,303 U.S. lives every day — one every 38 seconds. Yet this disease is both preventable and potentially reversible with optimal care. A recent peer-reviewed study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Ciccarrone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease found that the BaleDoneen Method is remarkably effective at treating, halting and preventing arterial plaque.

The study, which included 324 patients from the Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center, found that our comprehensive, precision-medicine approach rapidly shrank the size of plaque deposits in the neck arteries by 52.7% over a two-year period. Our genetically guided method also significantly improved cholesterol levels and blood pressure and dramatically reduced lipid-rich arterial plaque (the most dangerous kind), helping patients avoid heart attacks and strokes.

An earlier peer-reviewed study also found that the BaleDoneen Method reduced plaque burden and had positive effects on levels of both cholesterol and inflammation, the dangerous duo that can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries and increased risk for cardiovascular events. Since the publication of these studies, we have advanced our method of heart attack, stroke and diabetes prevention by developing a groundbreaking new medical specialty called “arteriology,” which leverages the latest peer-reviewed science to optimize the health of all of the body’s arteries.

How does arteriology differ from cardiology and other medical specialties?

Drs. Eckel and Blaha have proposed a new subspecialty that they call “cardiometabolic medicine” that would combine internal medicine, cardiology and endocrinology to improve the care of patients who have both CVD and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, insulin resistance (the root cause of 70% of heart attacks and almost all cases of type 2 diabetes) and obesity.

While we applaud this concept and the two doctors’ desire to provide more comprehensive care for those with cardiometabolic disease, we don’t think it goes far enough. CVD, which is also known as arterial disease, can manifest in a variety of ways that have traditionally been managed by diverse specialists, including neurologists for those who suffer a stroke, vascular surgeons for those with peripheral artery disease (PAD) and nephrologists for those with chronic kidney disease (a potential complication of high blood pressure).

Arteriology has a more holistic focus, by transcending the various medical silos to encompass the total care of the patient with diseased arteries, since our blood vessels nourish every organ and tissue in our body. Arteriology also has another even more crucial goal: to prevent CVD. BaleDoneen practitioners have been called “disease detectives” because our comprehensive evaluation checks for a wide range of root causes that can lead to arterial disease if they go undiagnosed and untreated.

For example, a recent BaleDoneen study has been described as “landmark” in the media because it was the first to identify oral bacteria from periodontal (gum) disease as a new, treatable cause of CVD, not just a risk factor for developing it. This chronic oral infection affects about 50% of Americans over age 30 — and earlier research has shown that people with periodontal disease have double the risk for heart attacks and triple the risk for strokes as those with healthy gums. Other recent studies have linked chronic gum inflammation (periodontitis) to increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and several forms of cancer.

Based on this discovery, the BaleDoneen Method uses a team approach in which medical and dental providers work together to protect our patients’ oral and systemic health, bridging the traditional gap between medicine and dentistry. Arteriology also encompasses the work of many other healthcare specialties, including family physicians, functional and integrative medicine doctors, sleep specialists, psychologists, nutritionists, cardiologists, neurologists, geneticists and other specialists looking to incorporate personalized medicine and genetically guided treatment into their areas of practice.

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The Surprising Stroke Risk that Affects 50% of Americans Over Age 30

Can you still have a stroke if you exercise everyday, eat clean, and get regular check-ups? Yes, indeed you can. We all know of celebrities and local friends, acquaintances, even loved ones who have had a stroke, despite being “the healthiest person” we know.

What happens? And how can you, “healthy” or not,look on the inside of your body and see if you are headed for a stroke? Of my top 7 MUST-HAVE tests for stroke prevention, 2 are often missing from your annual check-up, or even a prevention-focused work-up. One test is the saliva test to see if you have a bacterial infection in your mouth. You can have these dangerous bacteria without symptoms. And, why does it matter?

Approximately 50% of Americans over age 30 (about 65 million people) have periodontal disease (PD) which involves the presence of these dangerous bacteria. Also known as gum disease, PD is a chronic infection of the gums, connective tissue and bones supporting the teeth that can double or even triple risk for stroke or a heart attack. Symptoms may include red, swollen, tender gums; bleeding while brushing or flossing; receding gums; loose or sensitive teeth; and persistent bad breath. But you can harbor dangerous bacteria in your mouth – without any symptoms? Very often, PD has no symptoms in the early stages. As a result, millions of people don’t realize they have a serious oral infection that can lead to tooth loss, bone loss, stroke and heart attack.

A landmark, peer-reviewed study published in Postgraduate Medical Journal (PMJ) was the first to identify PD due to certain high-risk bacteria as a contributing cause of atherosclerosis. These germs, which often enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, gang up to create a triple threat to arterial health that can lead to heart attacks and strokes:

People with gum disease have twice as much small, dense LDL cholesterol (the most dangerous kind) in their blood as those with healthy gums.
Chemicals produced by high-risk oral bacteria make it easier for bad cholesterol to invade artery walls.
These chemicals make the inner layers of the artery wall (where plaque forms) stickier, like Velcro, so that cholesterol is more likely to get trapped there and clump into plaque.
Healthy Gums Help Prevent Strokes and Heart Attacks!

Poor oral health has also been linked to many other serious health threats, including diabetes, chronic kidney disease, some forms of cancer and dementia. Here’s more motivation to get a dental checkup: In a study of nearly 6,000 people ages 50 and older, those who hadn’t seen a dentist in the previous year had a 50% higher death rate than those who went two or more times annually! The researchers also reported that those who brushed and flossed daily lived longer than people the same age with neither of these habits, even when other risk factors were taken into account.

The PMJ study is changing how dental providers diagnose and manage gum disease, since it’s important to find out if people with PD have the high-risk bacteria now known to be a contributing cause of arterial disease. Instead of only evaluating the severity of a patient’s symptoms — such as how deep the pockets of infection are, how much the gums bleed, or how loose the teeth are dentists and dental hygienists are now using saliva testing to measure oral pathogens through DNA analysis.

Finding out if PD is due to high-risk bacteria is important to protect your oral-systemic health. What does that mean? Through research, we are understanding more and. more about the significant connection between oral health and the health of your body “system” as a whole.

Treatments for PD include nonsurgical periodontal therapy, a daily program of oral care to follow at home, prescription mouthwashes, dental trays with antibacterial gel (PerioProtect) and, in some cases, a short course of antibiotics. Regardless of which treatment is prescribed, I recommend repeating the oral saliva test to make sure the treatment was successful.

As we recently reported, heart attacks and strokes are on the rise among young adults (those under age 55), particularly among women. In June, The Wall Street Journal reported that after decades of decreases in death rates for arterial disease, fatalities among people ages 45 to 54 are now going up. In fact, middle-aged Americans are more likely to die of arterial disease now than they were in 2011!

Working closely with both your medical and dental providers to identify and treat all of your cardiovascular risks — including gum disease — could save your life. In a recent study of 10,000 initially stroke-free people, published in the journal Stroke, those with PD were more than twice as likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes than those with healthy gums. However, getting regular dental care significantly reduced risk for both types of events.

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Is Chronic Inflammation the No. 1 Threat to Your Health?

HOT or NOT? You may think this is a play on words; but inflammation is quite literally “HOT” in the body. Acute, short-term inflammation can be a good thing. However, chronic systemic inflammation is one of the greatest threats to your health and to your life. Inflammation can occur for a short period of time to save your life – such as an inflammatory response to a wound that is healing. If wound heals, the immune system and inflammatory response worked – doing what the body was designed to do. The wound, the surrounding area and your body “cool off” and you get on with your life. However should this immune-inflammatory response continue over an extended period of time, you will get disease, get sicker and ultimately this can take your life.

Researchers recently reported that this fiery condition (chronic inflammation from any source) is “the most significant cause of death in the world,” accounting for more than half of deaths around the world. These death occur from cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and dementia, among others. Anything that prolongs your inflammatory response is detrimental to your health and highly dangerous.

The article in Nature Medicine, titled “Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span,” the fire of chronic inflammation raging in the body is tied to the mass murderers known as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias and Parkinson’s disease). “It’s also important to recognize that inflammation is a contributor not just to physical health problems, but also mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, self-harm and suicide,” the study’s lead author, George Slavich, director of the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research, said in a news release.

The scientists advocate for an increased emphasis on early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of this fire: systemic chronic inflammation or SCI. They also say it’s imperative for the public to be aware of the risk factors for developing this dangerous disorder and the best ways to avoid it. The authors also call for improvements in how medical providers screen patients for chronic inflammation and offer new recommendations on how to manage it.

Who wrote the article and what are the key findings?

After an extensive analysis of the scientific evidence, 22 researchers from the National Institutes of Health, Harvard Medical School, Columbia University Medical Center, Stanford University and other world-renowned centers in the U.S., Europe and South America start their report by stating:, “One of the most important medical discoveries of the past two decades has been that the immune system and inflammatory processes are involved in not just a few select disorders, but a wide variety of mental and physical health problems that dominate present-day morbidity and mortality worldwide.”

The article adds to a large body of scientific literature suggesting that SCI may be the root of most — or all — chronic diseases and may even accelerate the aging process. To address this deadly global health threat, the scientists strongly recommend new strategies and more research to advance early diagnosis and treatment of SCI and to prevent it from occurring in the first place. This approach, they report, would “not only extend life but also help reduce chronic disease worldwide and improve health.”

What sparks chronic systemic inflammation?

Acute inflammation is a healthy response to injury and infection. For example, if you stepped on a rusty nail, cells in the affected area would issue a molecular call to arms, summoning the body’s defenders to fight the invading bacteria. This would launch an immune-system reaction called “the inflammatory cascade” in which more than 20 proteins would blast the invaders with toxins to kill them and blood flow increases around the wound to create the familiar signs of warmth, swelling and redness as it starts to heal. Acute inflammation can and does save your life.

In contrast, SCI harms rather than heals, because the immune-system reaction never stops. It’s like being shot by “friendly fire” during an endless war raging in the body. Triggers for SCI include obesity or a large waistline, smoking, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, chronic stress, social isolation, and poor oral health. For example, a landmark BaleDoneen study was the first to identify oral bacteria from periodontal (gum) disease as a contributing cause of CVD.

These oral bacteria frequently enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, which can result in SCI. The BaleDoneen study also found that bacterial villains from periodontal disease (PD) frequently gang up to create a triple threat to arterial health that can lead to heart attacks and strokes:

People with gum disease have twice as much small, dense LDL cholesterol (the most dangerous kind) in their blood as those with healthy gums. The size of cholesterol particles matters: Some are big and buoyant, so they tend to bounce off vessel walls. Others are small and dense, making it easier for them to penetrate the arterial lining. Think of the difference between beach balls and bullets.

Chemicals produced by high-risk oral bacteria make the arterial walls more permeable, so it’s easier for bad cholesterol to invade. Since people with PD due to these pathogens also have higher blood concentrations of small, dense LDL cholesterol and other disease-causing lipoproteins, this creates a one-two punch on the arteries, much like a gang assault on a house with broken windows or doors.
Substances produced by high-risk bacteria can also make the inner layers of the arterial wall (where plaque forms) stickier, much like Velcro, so bad cholesterol is more likely to get trapped there and create plaque deposits, resulting in a triple threat to arterial health.
Why is chronic inflammation so dangerous — and what can you do to avoid it?

The Perspective article reported that CSI leads to “a constellation of energy-saving behaviors commonly known as ‘sickness behaviors,’ ” such as sadness, fatigue, reduced sex drive, altered sleep patterns and social withdrawal, accompanied by increases in blood pressure, insulin resistance and abnormal levels of lipids (such as cholesterol). On a short-term basis, these changes, the article reports, “can be critical for survival during times of physical injury and microbial threat.”

Over the long term, however, chronic inflammation has the opposite effect, and sets the stage for non-infectious chronic diseases that can shorten our lives, including those that a Harvard paper has called “the four horsemen of the medical apocalypse: coronary artery disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s.” As we recently reported, other new research finds that targeting brain inflammation may be the best way to prevent Alzheimer’s and stroke, along with following ten healthy lifestyle steps that have been shown to cut dementia risk by 35 percent.

Can you avoid inflammation-related diseases? Yes you can. Completely voiding a raging fire within (CSI) and squelching any fire within as quickly as it starts has been one of the key evidence-based cornerstones of the BaleDoneen Method for over 20 years. Continue to follow my blog to learn how to live an “ANTI-Inflammatory” life; to protect yourself and your loved ones.

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COVID-19: What Every Patient with Heart Disease Needs to Know

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March 13: Weekly COVID-19 Update, Volume 2

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared that the new coronavirus (COVID-19) has reached pandemic levels. Numerous news reports also state that COVID-19 poses the greatest threat to older adults and those with certain medical conditions, including heart disease (also known as cardiovascular disease), diabetes and high blood pressure. But what is missing from this frightening media coverage is what, exactly, should people with these conditions be doing to protect themselves? And how great is their risk?

To help our patients — and all of the 116.8 million Americans affected by cardiovascular disease (CVD), including the 108 million with high blood pressure — stay as safe as possible during this crisis, we will be providing weekly updates by email and in our blog with the latest facts, studies and safety precautions. In this special update, you’ll find the answers to frequently asked questions and trustworthy resources where you can learn more. The Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center is also offering phone or Skype visits for our patients if requested.

How dangerous is COVID-19 to people with CVD and other chronic diseases?

Overall, more than 80 percent of people with COVID-19 experience mild illness from which they can recover without intensive medical intervention, according to a report from the American College of Cardiology (ACC). In early March, WHO’s Director-General reported that the global death rate from the virus is 3.4 percent, up from an earlier WHO report of 2 percent.

More recently, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine coauthored by Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and Robert Redfield, MD, Director of the CDC, opined that the true fatality rate of the COVID-19 “may be considerably less” than 1 percent and “may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.”

However, both death rates and cases of more severe or fatal illness are higher in older adults and those with certain medical conditions. Large-scale case studies by the Chinese CDC indicate that rates of death and very severe illness rise with age, with rates of 8 percent in people ages 70 to 79 and nearly 15 percent in patients over 80. People with certain medical conditions have both a higher risk for getting COVID-19 and a worse prognosis if they do. Up to 50 percent of people who develop the virus have co-existing disorders, and for this group of patients the following death rates from COVID-19 have been reported by the ACC:

  • Cancer: 5.6 percent
  • High blood pressure: 6 percent
  • Chronic respiratory disease: 6.3 percent
  • Diabetes: 7.3 percent
  • Cardiovascular disease: 10.5 percent

Why does COVID-19 pose such a high risk to people with cardiovascular conditions?

There is a lot that is not yet known about the new coronavirus, which infects the lungs, but the ACC reports that in one study of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, 16.7 percent developed heart arrhythmias and 7.2 percent experienced acute injuries to their hearts, along with other COVID-19 related complications. The ACC also reports that, “there have been reports of acute cardiac injury, arrhythmias, hypotension, tachycardia, and a high proportion of concomitant cardiovascular disease in infected individuals, particularly those who require more intensive care.”

Studies from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the pandemic – have reported that people with the virus have suffered heart attacks, inflammation of the heart, and even cardiac arrest, adds the ACC. The rate of cardiac complications in those with COVID-19 parallels those that occur in people with other types of coronaviruses, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), as well as those people who catch seasonal flu. No studies have yet been done to compare the rates of heart complications in COVID-19 patients with and without pre-existing CVD.

A few factors could explain why people with heart disease are at increased risk for severe illness if they catch COVID-19. First of all, any infectious disease increases inflammation in the body as one of the immune system’s defenses against invading pathogens. The result is a “blood storm” of inflammation coursing through the body’s more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels. In people who have arterial disease (plaque), inflammation can ignite a plaque rupture, much like a volcano erupting. This can lead to the formation of an obstructive blood clot, potentially followed by a heart attack or a stroke. Think of plaque as kindling. Inflammation is what lights the match.

High blood pressure also contributes to the development of atherosclerosis, while having type 2 diabetes elevates risk for a heart attack as much as having had a prior heart attack does in a non-diabetic person of the same age! Because COVID-19 often causes shortness of breath, which is turn quickens the pulse, both the lungs and the heart have to work harder when people catch the virus. But if your heart is already weakened by CVD or you have narrowing of the arteries, then your heart has to pump much harder than that of a healthy person to circulate blood and oxygen through your body.

What special precautions should patients with heart disease take?

The CDC, the American Heart Association and the BaleDoneen Method advise patients with CVD to get vaccinated for the flu and bacterial pneumonia. Influenza is so strongly linked to an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes in people with atherosclerosis that some experts have theorized that flu is a direct cause of these events, largely driven by associated rises of infection-induced inflammation in people with influenza.

Indeed, a 2018 study published in New England Journal of Medicine reported that within one week of catching the flu, people are at six times higher risk for a heart attack! Conversely, flu shots reduce risk for heart attacks and strokes by 61 percent for one full year after getting vaccinated, according to a recent analysis of studies of more than 7,000 people! Similarly, getting vaccinated against bacterial pneumonia has also been shown to lower risk for CV events.

Right now, the flu season is the U.S. continues to cause high rates of the disease, with about 440,000 Americans hospitalized and almost 8.2 percent of them dying, according to the CDC. Influenza has also been linked to increased risk for heart failure in people with CVD, adding another important reason to get vaccinated today if you haven’t already done so. While the shot won’t prevent COVID-19, it can also help keep you out of the doctor’s office or hospital with flu symptoms — enabling you to avoid being exposed to people who may have COVID-19 or other contagious conditions.

Also follow these precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is high in plant foods and low in meat and sugar; this has been shown to lower risk for heart attacks and strokes, and for getting CVD in the first place. Stock up on shelf-stable ingredients for healthy meals, such as canned, dried or frozen fruits and veggies, dried grains, and frozen or canned fish. For optimal cardiovascular wellness, we recommend a diet based on your DNA.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Your immune system is most active when you’re sleeping and getting enough sleep also helps you maintain a healthier blood pressure.
  • Exercise regularly. The American Heart Association recommends creating an at-home circuit workout as follows: “Select three or four exercises you can do at home like jumping jacks, lunges or jogging in place. Do each exercise in short bursts and repeat the circuit two to three times.”
  • Reduce stress. Take 15 minutes each morning to practice mindful meditation. Studies suggest that mindful meditation helps lower levels of inflammation and blood pressure, reduces tension and elevates mood. Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment in an open, nonjudgmental way, while letting stressful thoughts about the past or future drift away.
  • Be sure to continue to take all prescribed medications as directed. Try to keep at least a 30-day supply of your medications on hand.
  • Disinfect your entire mouth daily. Taking excellent care of your teeth and gums has been shown to reduce risk for infectious diseases AND heart disease — and also helps lower your risk for heart attacks and strokes. Brushing and flossing daily was also linked to a longer life in a large study of older adults, as compared to people with neither of these habits.
  • Clean high-touch surfaces daily. These include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards and bedside tables. The EPA has released a list of disinfectants and sanitizing products that are effective against COVID-19 and many other pathogens.
  • Avoid all but essential travel and try to avoid crowded places or gatherings.
  • If you feel ill, stay home and call ahead before consulting your medical provider. This will help the healthcare office take appropriate steps to keep others from getting infected or exposed if you do have COVID-19.

What are the best places to find more information for patients with heart disease?

For more tips on how to protect yourself and the latest news about COVID-19, read our blog post, “Coronavirus: How Concerned Should You Be?” To learn more about how COVID-19 affects the heart and other organs, read, “Here’s what coronavirus does to the body” in National Geographic. Additional resources include the following:

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COVID-19: “Every Storm Runs Out of Rain”

Paradoxically, as COVID-19 dominates the headlines The Guardian reports, “Never before have so many journalists cast around for silver linings. Never before has so much optimism been published — and read.” Reports of good news emerging from the pandemic (some accurate and some not) are circulating on social media, and people are finding inspiration in song and poetry, including Maya Angelou’s famous line, “Every storm runs out of rain.”

What kind of progress is being made on the scientific and medical fronts? What are the most encouraging, positive and hopeful developments around the world as we battle this invisible enemy? Here’s a look at some bright spots, great and small, and how the worst of the times is bringing out the best in people:

  • Most people who get COVID-19 will recover. The CDC estimates that in many affected areas, about 99 percent of people with the virus survive and some have no symptoms at all. That 1 percent overall death rate is far lower than that of MERS (about 34 percent), SARS (about 11 percent) or Ebola (90 percent), but higher than seasonal influenza (0.1 percent), reports Harvard Health. Globally, more than 150,000 patients are reported to have recovered.
  • A 103-year-old grandmother in China, a 102-year-old woman and a 101-year-old Italian man have reportedly made full recoveries from the new coronavirus. Doctors have nicknamed the Italian woman, Italica Grondona, “Highlander — the Immortal,” and say that she offers hope for all of the elderly facing the epidemic. The three centenarians were born around the time of the Spanish flu pandemic that ravaged the world in 1918.
  • The first potential COVID-19 vaccine is now being tested on volunteers in Seattle. Scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute have started giving healthy volunteers the first doses of a potential coronavirus in an early-stage safety study with 45 participants. They will receive two doses of the experimental shot, given one month apart. One participant, Jennifer Haller, 43, a mom of two teens, told PBS, “This is an amazing opportunity for me to do something.” A safety study of another potential vaccine, made by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, is expected to start in the U.S. and Asia next month — and dozens of other research teams around the world are also racing to develop COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients may help protect people at risk. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York are investigating if a century-old blood-derived treatment called plasmapheresis, which uses blood plasma or serum from people who have recovered from the virus, can help boost the immunity of newly infected patients or those at high risk. The idea is to see if antibodies in the plasma neutralize SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. “Deployment of this option requires no research or development [and] could be deployed in a few weeks since it relies on standard blood-banking practices,” wrote Hopkins immunologist Auturo Casadevall, MD, PhD in an article in Journal of Clinical InvestigationOn March 24, Mount Sinai announced plans to use the treatment in critically ill patients. This technique has reportedly been used successfully in China, which states that some patients improved within 24 hours, with decreased inflammation and viral loads and higher levels of oxygen in their blood, according to a news release from Mount Sinai.
  • Acts of kindness — and community spirit — are flourishing! In the UK, more than 500,000 people have volunteered to help that country’s National Health Service in its battle against COVID-19, twice the government’s recruitment target. In the US, volunteers in many towns and cities are sewing and donating face masks for healthcare workers at hospitals and many businesses are providing supplies for home crafters who want to join this effort. In North Carolina, one local group has started using 3-D printing to make plastic face shields.
  • Charities are stepping up with emergency grants related to COVID-19. Programs for children undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center used to include visitors from the Houston Ballet for bedside dance classes, the Houston Symphony for a program in collaboration with the hospital’s music therapist and a bedside theater program called Books Alive, all of which had to be canceled due to infection control concerns. To help young patients feel better without volunteers at bedside, the Texas-based Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation has arranged for the children to receive special age-appropriate arts and crafts kits to brighten their spirits.
  • The pandemic has decreased air pollution dramatically. Some reports estimate that China’s quarantine has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100 metric tons — and large decreases have also been seen over other quarantined areas around the world. Paul Monks, former chair of the UK government’s science advisory committee on air quality, says this could have some health benefits. “It seems entirely probable that a reduction in air pollution will be beneficial to people in susceptible categories [for COVID-19], for example some asthma sufferers,” he told The Guardian “It could reduce the spread of disease. A high level of air pollution exacerbates viral uptake because it inflames and lowers immunity.”
  • Healthcare workers are being applauded globally. People around the world are going to their doorsteps and windows to clap for the health heroes on the frontlines of fighting the invisible enemy in our midst — and to shout or sing their encouragement and gratitude. We join them in saluting every researcher and medical provider who is working to combat COVID-19!

Our message about a homemade saline solution that could help abate COVID-19 is being adopted by patients. New science suggests that using a salt-water gargle and nasal wash daily is likely to help curtail the spread of the virus. This simple technique, described in our blog post, has been shown to reduce the rate of other respiratory infections by activating one of the body’s natural defenses. As of March 22, 2020, the BaleDoneen Method recommends that everyone in the USA do this hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargle until the CDC no longer considers COVID-19 a serious threat in this country. For those with symptoms or a confirmed case of the new coronavirus, we recommend repeating the usage up to every two hours during the first few days. For complete instructions on how to perform nasal irrigation and gargling, click here.

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3 Dangerous Myths About Heart Disease that Many Women — and Doctors — Believe

Healthy Hearts

Which is the No. 1 killer of women: heart disease or breast cancer? If you guessed heart disease, congratulations! You’re better informed than 45% of women— and many doctors, including cardiologists — according to a shocking survey published in Journal of the American College of CardiologyAlthough heart disease kills more women than ALL forms of cancer combined, only 39% of doctors polled ranked it as a top health concern in women. Nor did most doctors feel well prepared to assess female patients for heart disease, the researchers reported.

Yet with early detection and optimal care, cardiovascular (CV) events are preventable. For example, two peer-reviewed studies show that the science-based BaleDoneen Method is highly effective at preventing, halting or even reversing heart disease, helping people avoid heart attacks and strokes. Here are some common myths about women’s heart disease, plus the knowledge women need to take charge of their heart health.

Myth: Heart disease is mostly a problem for men.

Fact: Also known as cardiovascular disease (CVD), heart disease strikes more women than men, claiming the lives of nearly 400,000 American women every year (ten times as many deaths as breast cancer causes). Although mortality from heart disease is declining overall, the drop has been greater in men, and among young women (those under age 55), rates are actually rising.  Because women and many doctors are unaware of these facts, medical providers often underestimate women’s CVD risk, causing them to miss out on potentially lifesaving therapies.

BaleDoneen takeaway: ALL women are at potential risk for CVD, which often causes no symptoms until it becomes severe enough to trigger a heart attack or stroke. The good news is that the BaleDoneen Method offers a proven, personalized heart-attack-and-stroke prevention plan that includes female-specific therapies and lifestyle steps to keep your heart healthy at every age, as discussed more fully in the bestselling BaleDoneen book, Beat the Heart Attack Gene.

Myth: If a woman has a heart problem, it will usually be detected during her annual physical or wellness exam.

Fact: Although most of the women surveyed had a routine physical or wellness exam in the previous year, only 40% received a heart health assessment. The study reported 71% of women had never asked to be checked for CVD. Instead, they assumed that their provider would alert them if there was a problem. The study also found that when checking women’s heart health, very few primary care providers or cardiologists followed female-specific guidelines for CVD risk assessment in women. About half of the doctors used risk calculators, most of which are based on studies of men.

BaleDoneen takeaway: A number of studies have shown that risk calculators can be highly inaccurate predictors of which patients might be headed for a heart attack or stroke. That’s why the BaleDoneen Method, practiced by hundreds of clinicians worldwide, doesn’t rely on risk factor analysis alone: We use lab and imaging tests to directly check each patient for signs of hidden arterial disease, as part of a comprehensive cardiovascular evaluation.

Myth: I’m healthy, so I’m not at risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Fact: Although 74% of the women surveyed reported having one or more CVD risk factors–such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease–only 16% had been told they were at risk by their medical provider. As a result, many women have a false sense of security about their heart health. The researchers reported that 63% of women put off going to their medical provider at least sometimes, even though many of them admitted that they should be doing more to keep their heart healthy.

BaleDoneen takeaway: Even seemingly healthy people with no obvious risk factors can harbor silent, deadly plaque in their arteries. That’s why you shouldn’t delay being screened for CVD with a comprehensive BaleDoneen assessment, even if you feel fine. Early detection and treatment helps save women’s lives!

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