Vitamin D & Cardiovascular Health

The online journal Practice Update reviewed a publication in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology which basically says excessive calcium supplementation may harm your healthy heart. It was published at a pertinent time because it came while I was trying to convince my post-menopausal wife that between her Vitamin D pearls, calcium, Vitamin D pills and her multivitamin she was taking too much Vitamin D. Her measured 25-hydroxy Vitamin D level came back at 63.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin like vitamins A and K. Extra doses of fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s cells and can reach harmful and toxic levels. The normal level of Vitamin D measured by a standard blood test is considered to be 20 or greater by the World Health Organization. In North America it was originally higher at 28 then raised to 30. The Covid-19 Pandemic has raised issues about low levels of Vitamin D being a risk for catching the disease, and developing complications, but no one has defined what levels are considered unsafe.

The National Academy of Medicine, after reviewing this data, has set these limits and levels:

  1. Deficiency is less than or equal to 12ng/ml
  2. Inadequacy is 12-20 ng/ml
  3. Adequate is 20-50 ng/ml
  4. Risk of Adverse Effects occurs at > 50ng/ml

The data suggest avoiding supplementation unless the 25-hydroxy Vitamin D level is <20 and probably best reserved for <12 ng/ml.

Calcium is best absorbed when accompanied by Vitamin D .  Taking smaller doses like 500 mg plus 1000 of Vitamin D3 works. For osteoporotic patients they suggest 600mg of Calcium plus 1000 IU of Vitamin D3 daily. They want you to eat a diet that supplies another 600 mg of calcium a day plus walk for weight bearing exercise and get 15 or more minutes of sunlight daily. Of interest was the statement that calcium supplements may harm your heart, but any calcium obtained naturally through foods does not.

The article was reviewed and commented on by David Rakel, MD, FAAFP with the take home message being, “Eat a high-fiber, plant-based diet with some fish and go outside and play.”

More Steps Per Day Associated with Milder Irritable Bowel Symptoms

The association between emotions, the brain and the intestines has always been of great interest to me. As a young medical student facing the stress of having to succeed academically, I developed irritable bowel syndrome. I have written previously about my encounters with IBS and discussed how my symptoms diminished as my coping skills improved. I have always loved to aerobically exercise for stress reduction but never really appreciated how that activity may have diminished my irritable bowel discomfort.

Toyohiro Hamaguchi, PhD, of the School of Health Sciences at Saitama Prefectural University reported on a study discussed in Plos One showing that with increased walking irritable bowel symptoms seemed to diminish. The study looked at 100 students, 78 of whom were women with a mean age of 20 years old. They were recruited for the study based on their diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome between the years 2015-2018.

The participants were not obese based on Body Mass Index (BMI). They answered a GSRS (Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale) document at the start of the study and again while participating in the study. The rating scale evaluates the severity of abdominal pain, indigestion, reflux, diarrhea and constipation. Walking patterns were then tracked using a pedometer.

They found that with increasing daily steps, the severity of the symptoms markedly decreased based on the GSRS rating scale. Based on their findings, the severity of symptoms decreases by 50% when increasing your daily step count from 4000 steps to greater than 9500.

Dr. Hamaguchi explained that “mild physical activity helps clear intestinal gas and reduces bloating. Thirty minutes of daily walking is recommended for increasing colon transit time in adults with chronic constipation. Recent research has found that inflammatory biomarkers were reduced after 24 weeks of moderate -intensity aerobic exercise”.

This is one more study showing that low to moderate intensity exercise, on a regular basis, allows you to feel better. During this Covid19 Pandemic the stress level for all is so much higher. Take a 30-minute walk at your own pace, maintaining social distancing and with a mask available if someone starts to get close . It will reduce your stress and improve your health!

Benefits of Exercise on Blood Pressure and Prevention of Atrial Fibrillation

Senior Citizens, exercise v2Junxiu Liu, MD, of the University of South Carolina published an article in the September 15 , 2014 edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showing that exercise and improving fitness levels prevented an age related expected rise in patient systolic blood pressure. His study followed 14,000 men for 35 years. Sedentary men started to see their systolic blood pressure rise at about age 46. Men who were fit delayed this rise in blood pressure until they were 54 years of age. The effect on the diastolic blood pressure was even more pronounced when looking at fitness levels. Men with low fitness ratings elevated their diastolic blood pressure to above 80 by age 42. Those men with a high fitness level did not see the rise in diastolic BP until they were beyond age 90. His research suggests that “highly fit men are likely to reach abnormal BP readings a decade later or more than sedentary men.

In an unrelated study published in the same issue, researchers in Texas found that regular aerobic exercise prevented the hearts left ventricle or main pumping chamber from developing stiffness. The stiff ness of the ventricle contributes too many common cardiovascular conditions effecting older patients. They found that low levels of casual lifelong exercise such as four (4) sessions of 30 minutes per week throughout adult hood was sufficient to keep the ventricle from stiffening.

Marco Perez, MD of Stanford University looked at exercise levels in women and the development of the heart arrhythmia atrial fibrillation. He found that sedentary women were much more likely to develop this pathologic arrhythmia than women who exercised regularly. Obesity and being overweight is a risk factor that increases your chances of atrial fibrillation. Regular exercise by obese women reduced this risk by about nine percent (9%).

The message is very clear that keeping moving and being active improves your blood pressure control and reduces your risk of developing many cardiovascular related problems. My advice is find some activity you enjoy doing and make sure you try it several times per week to gain the natural benefits the exercise provides.

Sarcopenia – A New Issue in Aging

Muscle MassSarcopenia is the medical term for low muscle mass. It affects at least 50 % of older adults, however most individuals are unfamiliar with the term. For years doctors themselves did not agree that there was such a problem and there was further disagreement on the definition of what constituted low muscle mass. S. Studenski, MD, Director of Longitudinal Studies Section at the National Institute on Aging says” Sarccopenia is not in anyone’s consciousness as a health problem, although we see it around us all the time. Perhaps we just take it for granted that when you get older you shrink. It doesn’t have to be a normal part of aging.” Physicians are now a bit more cognizant of recognizing the condition, treating it and possibly preventing it.”

In a series of articles published in the Journal of Gerontology of May 2014 Dr. Studenski defines the criteria for sarcopenia based on measurement of diminished hand grip strength and reduced muscle mass. The tests must be performed with specific equipment by professionals in order to meet the criteria for the diagnosis. Patients with sarcopenia have their youthful muscles replaced by ineffective fat even though their actual body weight may not change.

The consequences of low muscle mass can include issues with mobility, frailty, osteoporosis, falls, fractures, diminished activity, and weight gain and glucose metabolism abnormalities. Her studies inclusion criteria are based on observing 26,000 subjects and measuring grip strength and muscle mass in the arms and legs. Diet appears to play a major role in maintaining adequate muscles mass with normal Vitamin D intake of 600 IU per day in ages 51 – 70 and 800 IU in patients over 71 being necessary to retain muscle mass. You need an adequate intake of protein in the 40 – 70 gram range daily. When looking at choice of foods, acid producing foods and foods low in Vitamin B12 and Folic acid can be detrimental. Alkaline foods such as fruits, vegetables, tofu, almonds, herbs and spices are felt to be beneficial.

If your diet is adequate and appropriate then exercise, especially modest resistance training exercise, is very beneficial to maintain and rebuild muscle mass.

It appears that testing for hand grip strength and muscle mass will become a standard part of the geriatric evaluation in the future. The recommendations to preserve muscle mass are actually not new. Suggesting we eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, nuts and vegetables and high quality proteins while staying active is nothing new. What is new is the definition and categorization of another benchmark of healthy aging and suggestions on how to maintain it.

Extreme Intensity Exercise Good for the Ego But Maybe Not for the Heart

ExerciseHealth experts have encouraged regular moderate level exercise for adults 5-7 days a week lasting 30 – 60 minutes per session to stay heart healthy.  We talk about walking 15 – 20 minute miles while being able to comfortably carry on a conversation as your suggested goal. We all see other adults appearing far more fit and aggressive working out daily at a much quicker and much more strenuous pace. Experts have always wondered if they are healthier and if they fare better?

Two articles addressing this issue appear in the journal Heart. Researcher Ute Mons, MA, of the German Cancer Research Institute found that men with known stable coronary artery disease who exercised strenuously daily had more than a two fold increase in cardiovascular mortality compared to men with CAD who exercised 2 -4 times per week at a moderate level. The study was the first of its kind to look at different levels of exercise and frequencies of exercise. Certainly more research is now required to verify these findings in studies which do not rely on patient self reporting of how often, how hard and how long you work out. It is also critical to remember that this study was conducted on individuals known to have heart disease.  The message to them should be clear to exercise moderately for the most benefit and least risk. The study says nothing about the benefits or risks of individuals without cardiovascular disease who exercise moderately versus strenuously.

In another related article men at age 30 who reported exercising 5 or more hours a week had an increased risk of developing the arrhythmia atrial fibrillation as compared to those who exercised more modestly. While these were both excellent preliminary works requiring further study, they both point toward moderation once again as the healthiest and best lifestyle path.

Glucosamine Study: “It Doesn’t Work”

C. Kent Kwoh, M.D., of the University of Arizona in Tucson reported results of a study to examine whether individuals who take glucosamine showed evidence of structural benefits in the treatment of their knee arthritis on MRI scans and in biochemical markers of cartilage deterioration. The study appeared in the online version of Arthritis & Rheumatology.

GlucosamineThere is a big retail market for glucosamine with more than one in ten U.S. adults using it for relief of arthritic pain. Many studies have been done but most were sponsored by manufacturers of glucosamine so the results are felt to be reliable. Worldwide sales of glucosamine top $2 billion dollars per year.

To evaluate the substance, Dr. Kwoh found 201 volunteers from his community with chronic knee pain. The patient’s mean age was 52 years old. More than 50% were women. Their body mass index averaged 29kg/m2 indicating they were not grossly overweight. They were randomized and blinded into two groups one receiving 1500mg of glucosamine hydrochloride (Reganasure) or a placebo in a 16 ounce bottle of a diet beverage. They then followed the patients for six months recording their pain evaluations, their changes on MRI images of their knees and noting any difference in the levels of C-terminal telopeptide of type II collagen – a marker of collagen deterioration. The results showed no differences between the glucosamine and placebo group.

Joanne Jordan, M.D., Chief of Rheumatology University of North Carolina noted that the study showed that glucosamine at this dose and for this length of time does not alter or help arthritis sufferers. “Nobody wishes it worked more than me.” said Nancy E Lane, M.D., director of the Center for Musculoskeletal Health at the University of California Davis in Sacramento. “It doesn’t work. There’s a group of patients who get a reduction in pain when they take glucosamine because glucosamine is a sugar and sugars can be analgesic to some people.”

No one has shown that glucosamine is harmful to anyone. It would be helpful if the study ran for more than six months since arthritis is a long term episodic disease. The investigation of supplements and alternative treatments is long overdue so this scientific study is welcome. It just needs to be continued for a longer period of time to satisfy those who use the product and have gotten relief.

Walking Reduces Stroke Risk

Walking signBarbara Jefferis, PhD, of University College London UK presented data in the journal Stroke that indicated that older men who added a long walk to their daily routine significantly reduced their risk of having a stroke.  The association was independent of activity level or walking pace. Men who walked 8 – 14 hours per week had about a one third lower risk of stroke compared to men who walked no more than three hours per week or at all. The risk was about 2/3 lower for men who walked more than 22 hours per week.  Walking is recognized to be the predominant form of physical activity in older adults and its impact in reducing stroke risk is important to understand.

The study looked at 3,435 men followed over a ten year period.  The lead researcher said there is no reason to believe that the protective effect does not apply to women as well.

This is one of several studies published over the last few months that extol the benefits of modest age related exercise to preserve function and independence.  We have seen the benefits of an after dinner walk on blood sugar levels documented in recent studies. In a recent British Medical Journal article (BMJ 2013, 347:f5555) researchers reviewing 60 research trials conclude that exercise benefits patients with arthritis rather than being sedentary. We have seen other studies linking seniors with active leisure activity life style exhibiting improved cognitive function compared to seniors with a more sedentary leisure life style.

From a doctor’s perspective the advice is simple. Find something you enjoy doing that is active and aerobic such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing, roller skating or roller blading and engage in this activity regularly to protect your health and independence.

 

Exercise May Protect Against Memory Loss of Aging

Senior Citizens, exercise v2Dorothy Edwards, PhD of the University of Wisconsin in Madison and colleagues presented a study at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference this week that implies that physical exercise and activity slows down or prevents age related memory loss in patients considered high risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease or Minimal Cognitive Impairment. The data was presented in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine on line journal MedPage.

The study showed that the brain hippocampus was more resistant to the memory loss effects of aging in a population that had first degree relatives with dementia and who exercised aggressively. Past research has shown that physical exercise stimulates “neurogenesis “in the hippocampus.

Maria Carrillo, PhD, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association said, “We already know that exercise is important in terms of all sorts of health measures. Now it appears that over time, it also had benefits in preserving memory and other aspects of cognition, even in high risk people.”

The study of 317 patients is one more supporting piece of evidence that should be encouraging us all to get out and walk, cycle, swim, run and participate in whatever physical activities we find enjoyable to do. The health benefits are too important to ignore.

Women and Cardiovascular Disease – There is A Difference Between Men and Women

Front view of woman holding seedlingThe American Society of Preventive Cardiology presented an educational seminar recently in Boca Raton, Florida to educate physicians, nurses and health care providers that cardiovascular disease in women can be very different than in men.  Failure to recognize these differences has resulted in women being under diagnosed, under treated and suffering worse outcomes.

The difference is first noticeable in pregnancy when the development of elevated blood pressure, super elevation of lipids and the development of gestational diabetes predispose young mothers to earlier, more serious, cardiovascular risk later in life. The faculty noted that women of child bearing age tend to use their obstetrician as their primary care doctor.  They suggested that women with pregnancy related diabetes, hypertension and lipid abnormalities should be referred to a medical doctor knowledgeable in preventive cardiology, post-delivery, for ongoing care.

For reasons that are unclear, women are less likely to be treated to recommended guidelines for lipids, diabetes and hypertension.  Diabetic women have a far worse prognosis with regard to cardiovascular disease as compared to men. They are less likely to be treated with aspirin, which while not as effective in preventing MI in women, is apparently protective against stroke.

Women about to have a heart attack have different symptoms the weeks, to months, before the event. They are more likely to have sleep disturbances, unexplained fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath than the standard exertional angina seen in men.   When they do have a heart attack they are as likely to have shortness of breath and upper abdominal fullness and heartburn as they are to have chest pain. They are more likely to have neck and back pain with nausea than men are.  

Since women have different symptoms than men they are more likely to be sent home from the emergency room without treatment.  They are less likely to have bypass surgery than men, less likely to be treated with the anticoagulants and antiplatelet medications that men are treated with and, they are less likely to be taken to the catheterization lab for diagnosis and intervention as compared to men.

The faculty was comprised of world-class researchers, clinicians and educators who happened to be outstanding speakers as well, bringing a vital message to our community.  They pointed out the different questions and diagnostic tests we should be considering in evaluating a woman as opposed to a man.

This was my first educational seminar through the American College of Preventive Cardiology and I thank them for the message they delivered to the medical and nursing community at probably one of the finest seminars I have had the privilege to attend.

Senior Citizens Can Walk Off Meal Related Spikes in Their Blood Sugar

Elderly Couple Walking on Beach v1 - Steve Reznick, M.D.As a physician, it is extremely difficult to motivate older adults to exercise – especially those that do not like to sweat.  At the same time we are always trying to find ways to treat or prevent illness without adding additional pills, medicines or chemicals to a person’s life.  To address these concerns, Loretta DiPetro, PhD of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, D.C. presented data in the online journal of Diabetes Care presented from her studies on the effects of post dinner walking on blood sugar.

She followed 10 healthy but obese adult onset diabetics who were sedentary and disliked exercise.  None of the study participants were taking diabetic blood sugar altering medications. The mean age was 69 years old and all were considered Class I obese.  She asked them to take a 15 minute walk after dinner at 3 mph on a treadmill. She compared the glucose response at this speed to a 45 minute walk after breakfast or a 45 minute walk after lunch.  She followed their fasting blood sugars and post dinner glucose levels.  Her results showed that the 15 minute post dinner meal walk was the only exercise period to significantly lower the blood sugar three hours after a meal. The 15 minute walk helped improve 24 hour overall blood sugar control as well.  All the walks helped lower blood sugar but only the 15 minute post dinner walk lowered the sugar at a statistically significant level.

It is well known that exercise of the large muscle groups helps improve glucose metabolism and the body’s sensitivity and response to insulin.  We usually lower the prescribed insulin dosage of actively competing athletes before they compete because their usual dose lowers blood sugar much lower when combined with exercise. This study used that knowledge to assist older, sedentary individuals to improve their glucose control. 

 The message is simple – take a 15 minute walk after dinner. Your life depends on it.