It Could Happen to You

Why we need to take heart risk more seriously

Even if you are a couch potato, your heart doesn’t have to go downhill.

 |  It Could Happen to You  |  3-minute read |   29-09-2017
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For the last 17 years, we have celebrated the World Heart Day. And in the last 17 years, we have changed our diets drastically (several times over), turned into gym rats, given up what we used to enjoy once, taken to expensive annual check-ups, read up all we could — just in the hope of keeping our hearts ticking.

Yet, the explosion of heart disease continues to rage around the world, accounting for more than 31 per cent of all deaths now. Why is that?

Heart shortchanged?

Not enough money is spent on heart research, that’s the new buzz among scientists. A raft of studies is now examining medical research funding on a global scale. And it shows that government spending on medical research in wealthy countries does not correlate with disease burden or the cost it imposes on society: cancer and HIV/AIDS, for instance, receive disproportionately large amounts while chronic ailments like heart disease, stroke or diabetes much less.

What we learnt this year

Take a look back at this year’s research on the heart. Some would make you frown, some would make you smile and one would have you jumping for joy:

Climate and heart: A recently-published study in the journal Environment International shows that there is higher risk of heart failure in cold weather. The authors of the study have said: "We know that doctors rarely take the weather forecast into account when treating or making recommendations to heart failure patients... So with the extreme differences in temperature due to climate change, we wanted to show how the weather is becoming a more relevant factor.”

The study shows that exposure to cold or high-pressure weather could trigger events leading to hospitalisation or death in heart failure patients.

heart-attack_s_650_0_092917093839.jpgIf you are middle-aged and you think your walking pace has slowed down. 

It’s so disheartening to hear that doctors rarely take weather into consideration. Why?

Ifs and buts: Quitting daily aspirin therapy may increase second heart attack and stroke risk, reports the American Heart Association this month. But do we even know if daily aspirin therapy is a wise choice, or not? Although the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends the use of low-dose, long-term aspirin to prevent heart attack, stroke and colorectal cancer, there are still too many ifs and buts to it.

A tad too long: In July, German researchers from the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein at Kiel, found important groups of protective gut bacteria (that can curb inflammation, a key reason behind chronic heart failure) are often missing among patients suffering heart failure. It was in the '90s that research linked heart failure and protective gut bacteria (think probiotics). Three decades later, heart attack and gut micro-biome is becoming a big field.

Be aware and beware

1. Can you tell if you are at risk of heart disease? Yes, say scientists from University of Leicester: If you are middle-aged and you think your walking pace has slowed down (published in European Heart Journal, 2017). 

2. If you have any blood group other than "O", beware. This April, researchers at the European Society of Cardiology said having a non-O blood group is associated with higher (9 per cent) risk of heart attack.

3. Artificial sweeteners may be linked to long-term weight gain and higher risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, according to a new study published in July by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Trick the heart

In August, researchers at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada, reported that they have discovered a protein (CT-1) that can trick the heart into pumping more blood, just as it does during exercise. So even if you are a couch potato, your heart doesn’t have to go downhill.

Also read - Heart ailments on the rise: Why you need omega-3 in your diet


Damayanti Datta Damayanti Datta @dattadamayanti

The writer is Executive Editor, India Today.

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