Category Archives: heart attack

National Cholesterol Week

This week is National Cholesterol Week, HEART UK’s annual event to raise awareness of the dangers of high cholesterol. Heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer, accounting for around a quarter of all deaths. The good news is that if you have raised cholesterol alongside other markers of heart disease, it can in almost every case be reversed through dietary and lifestyle measures.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance manufactured by the liver and it plays an important role in your body. It is a component in the membrane of every cell in your body. It is also involved in hormone production and helps the nervous system to function properly. When there is inflammation or damaged tissue in the body, cholesterol can accumulate in the areas in need of healing. This may be why raised cholesterol can signify damage in your arteries. LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol is a particular concern because this type of cholesterol can become oxidised, leading to tissue damage and hardening of the arteries.

There are three cholesterol readings that you can have. Total cholesterol, LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and HDL (‘good’) cholesterol. LDL transports cholesterol from the liver through the bloodstream to sites where it is needed. HDL then transports it back again, and so HDL removes unwanted or damaged cholesterol from your arteries. Ideally HDL should make up at least a third of your total cholesterol.

While cholesterol is used as a marker for heart disease, in order to get a clearer idea of your real risk, it’s important to consider this marker alongside other markers such as levels of triglycerides, blood pressure and homocysteine.

If you eat a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and fried foods, and low in protective fruits and vegetables, then cholesterol is likely to become damaged by oxidation. This type of diet also provides very little soluble fibre which is essential in eliminating excess cholesterol. In general, the best diet for lowering LDL cholesterol is a low GI diet. This type of diet has been found to be particularly effective in reducing LDL and triglycerides and raising HDL (1). A huge benefit of a low GI diet is that it has greater levels of soluble fibre which helps to remove LDL cholesterol from the body. It also provides plenty of antioxidants, helping to combat oxidative damage.

Here are 10 simple ways to reduce your cholesterol level, improve your lipid profile and lower your overall risk of heart disease.

Leafy Greens boost magnesium, helping to relax your arteries.

1. Increase leafy greens and add raw nuts and seeds to your diet.
These boost magnesium, helping to relax your arteries.

2. Drink 8 glasses of water each day.
Proper hydration reduces blood pressure by lowering levels of sodium inside cells.

3. Reduce your salt intake.
Reducing sodium levels can help to relax the arteries.

4. Add plant sterols.
Plant sterols lower ‘bad’ cholesterol by blocking its absorption. They are present in soya beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

5. Increase low GI carbohydrates.
Soluble fibre, in oats, lentils, beans and vegetables, helps to reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. Beta-glucans in oats are particularly beneficial.

6. Add antioxidant-rich foods every day.
Antioxidants ‘mop up’ damage within the arteries. Try blueberries, strawberries, plums, tenderstem broccoli and spinach.

7. Boost your omega-3 intake with oily fish, flaxseed oil or omega-3 eggs.
Omega-3 fats help to lower triglycerides, lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase ‘good’ cholesterol.

8. Add garlic, ginger and turmeric to your cooking.
Garlic promotes healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Turmeric and ginger help to relax the arteries.

9. Consider supplementing Co-Q10 and Vitamin C.
These nutrients reduce damage in the arteries and lower blood pressure.

10. Boost your B Vitamins.
Homocysteine is actually one of the strongest predictors of heart disease (2), damaging the lining of the arteries, but B vitamins convert it into a harmless substance. If you have raised homocysteine levels, then supplementing with B Vitamins can help. Try foods rich in folic acid such as broccoli, asparagus and spinach.


1. Stroke Statistics. British Heart Foundation and The Stroke Association. 2009.

2. Jardine MJ et al (2012) The effect of folic acid based homocysteine lowering on cardiovascular events in people with kidney disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012;344:e3533.


Serrapeptase: 5 Main Health Benefits

Serrapeptase, technically called Serratio Peptidase, is a proteolytic enzymes, meaning that it dissolves or digests protein. Serrapeptase was first found in silkworms, as it is this enzyme that silkworms use to dissolve their cocoons. It is now produced as a nutritional supplement through fermentation of plant-grown enzymes.

How does it work?
The reason that serrapeptase has such valuable therapeutic potential is that it dissolves only non-living tissue – tissues that can be a barrier to healing and optimal health. This special enzyme also helps reduce swelling after injury and inhibits the release of chemical messengers that cause pain. Its unique properties have led to a number of studies investigating its therapeutic benefits.

There are five main health benefits associated with serrapeptase:

  1. It is often used for its pain relieving benefits. Serrapeptase decreases pain by blocking the release of bradkinin and other ‘pain messengers’ from inflamed or damaged tissue (1). Because of this it is often used as an alternative to common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and is especially favoured by those concerned about side effects of long term NSAID usage such as ulcers bleeding in the digestive tract.
  2. Serrapeptase has been studied for its anti-inflammatory benefits (2). The supplement is believed to improve symptoms related to a whole host of inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, migraine and others due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
  3. The supplement is an effective mucolytic, meaning that it thins mucous. It shows promise as a treatment for those with chronic sinusitis (3). Ear, nose and throat problems also involve uncomfortable symptoms linked with increased mucous secretion. Serrapeptase has also been studied as a potential treatment for these conditions (4).
  4. Serrapeptase also appears to play a role in healing injury. The supplement has been used to support post-operative recovery, as well as speeding recovery from sprains and other injuries. For example, in a group of patients undergoing knee surgery, those taking serrapeptase supplements showed a 50% reduction in swelling compared to controls (5). Injured joints, ligaments or muscles are coated with fibrin which works to support the injured tissue while it regenerates. Sometimes excess fibrin can form unwanted scar tissue, inflammation and pain. This fibrin takes up valuable space in which living tissue should grow, reducing the motion of muscles and joints. Therefore by dissolving fibrin, serrapeptase offers potential to enhance recovery after injury.
  5. Because of its ability to dissolve fibrin, serrapeptase has also been used to dissolve arterial plaque, fibrous blockages in clogged or hardened arteries. As serrapeptase only dissolves dead or damaged tissue, this could enable the dissolution of harmful atherosclerotic plaques without causing any harm to the inside of the arteries.
Serrapeptase may help in supporting injuries and has anti-inflammatory benefits.

Studies of serrapeptase supplementation have found positive benefits with a dosage of around 10mg, taken after meals three times daily. No long-term studies of this supplement have yet been conducted, although studies to date suggest that supplementation for a period of 4 weeks seems safe (1,2).

Although preliminary research looks promising, many of the studies have been small or uncontrolled and much of the supporting evidence is anecdotal (6). Serrapeptase does appear to show promise as an agent for reducing pain and inflammation and support recovery. Clearly more research is needed to determine the role and value of serrapeptase in medicine, though studies to date suggest it has some clinical potential.


1. Mazzone A et al (1990) Evaluation of Serratiapeptidase in acute or chronic inflammation of torhinolarygology pathology: a multi-centre, double-blind randomized trial versus placebo. J Int Med Res 18:379-88.

2. Tachibana M, Mizukoshi O, Harada Y, et al (1984) A multi-centre, double-blind study of serrapeptase versus placebo in post-antrotomy buccal swelling. Pharmatherapeutica 3:526-30.

3. Mizukoshi D et al (1982) A double-blind study of Danzen tablets in the treatment of chronic sinusitis. Igaku Ayumi 123:768-778.

4. Mazzonie C et al (1990) Evaluation of serrapeptase in acute or chronic inflammation of otorhinolaryngology pathology: a multicentre, double-blind randomized trial versus placebo. J Int Med Res 18(5):379-388.

5. Esch VP et al (1989) Reduction of postoperative swelling. Objective measurement of swelling in upper ankle joint in treatment with serrapeptase – a prospective study (german) Fortschr Med 107(4):76-8.

6. Bhagat S et al (2013) Serratiopeptidase: a systematic review of the existing evidence. Int J Surg 11(3):209-217.


Turmeric and Cinnamon – Spices for a Healthy Heart

Eating a diet rich in spices can reduce the body’s response to high fat meals.  A new study has tested the effects of culinary spices on markers of conditions such as heart disease.

Turmeric & Cinnamon For Heart Health
Eating a diet rich in spices can reduce the body’s response to high fat meals. (2)

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, tested the effects of a spicy meal on levels of insulin, triglycerides and antioxidant defences.

Professor Sheila West and her colleagues prepared meals on two separate days for six men between the ages of 30 and 65 who were overweight, but otherwise healthy.  The researchers added two tablespoons of culinary spices to the test meal, which consisted of chicken curry, Italian herb bread, and a cinnamon biscuit.  The spice mix used was a blend of rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika.

The second ‘control’ meal was identical, except that spices were not included.

After each meal, the team drew blood from the participants every 30 minutes for three hours, measuring the effects of each meal on the body.

Compared with the unseasoned meal group, the spicy meal increased antioxidant activity in the blood by 13 percent and decreased insulin response by 21 percent.  Blood triglycerides also decreased by 30 percent compared with the unseasoned meal group.

“Normally, when you eat a high-fat meal, you end up with high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in your blood,” explains West.  “If this happens too frequently, or if triglyceride levels are raised too much, your risk of heart disease is increased.  We found that adding spices to a high-fat meal reduced triglyceride response by about 30 percent, compared to a similar meal with no spices added.”

This was a small, preliminary study, and further studies using a larger test group would help to clarify the results.  West intends to conduct further research to find if smaller doses of spices exert similar benefits.

In the meantime, for those who enjoy cooking, adding culinary spices is a simple way to add ‘kick’ to your dishes, and may offer health benefits too. The active components of ingredients such as garlic and turmeric are available in supplement form, which can be a convenient option. Those who enjoy spicy foods can try adding fresh, grated ginger to stir frys.  Turmeric goes well with chicken, rice and vegetable dishes, while its vibrant colour really helps to lift a dish.  Rosemary and oregano are great in Italian dishes, in stews or with roasted vegetables. Finally cinnamon can be added to your morning oatmeal for a sweet and healthy way to start your day.

Written by Nadia Mason


1.   A. C. Skulas-Ray, P. M. Kris-Etherton, D. L. Teeter, C.-Y. O. Chen, J. P. Vanden Heuvel, S. G. West. A High Antioxidant Spice Blend Attenuates Postprandial Insulin and Triglyceride Responses and Increases Some Plasma Measures of Antioxidant Activity in Healthy, Overweight Men. Journal of Nutrition, 2011; 141 (8): 1451 DOI: 10.3945/jn.111.138966.

2.  Image courtesy of  Michelle Meiklejohn.




Daily smoothie may reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease

A daily smoothie may reduce levels of cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin, a new study has found.

Try one of our tasty smoothie recipes
Try one of our delicious nutritious smoothie recipes (2)

The new exploratory study on overweight participants measured the effects of a daily smoothie made with acai berries on markers for diabetes and heart disease.  It discovered effects such as reductions in glucose, insulin and cholesterol levels (1).  The study’s authors reasoned that the high fibre, antioxidant, and fatty acid combination in the acai smoothie could explain these positive effects.

Previous studies have noted that reductions in fasting glucose of 3.6 percent and in cholesterol of 2.3 percent result in a significant reduction (58%) in the risk of becoming diabetic.  In this current study, fasting glucose was reduced by 5.3 percent and cholesterol by 10.6 percent, indicating a significant reduction in the risk of developing diabetes.

This was a small, prospective study, and it is hoped that larger controlled trials may clarify the health benefits of smoothies.

Smoothies certainly offer excellent nutritional value.  They blend the whole fruit, rather than just the juice, delivering a good serving a fibre along with the fruit’s vitamins and antioxidants.  The fibre content helps to provide a steady release of energy rather than the sugar rush of pure fruit juice.

Smoothies are simple to make, delicious to drink and are a great way to give yourself a nutrient boost. Ideal summer fruits are blueberries, peaches, plums, strawberries, watermelon, kiwifruit and bananas.  To boost healthy fats, add flaxseed oil, avocado, walnuts or ground flax. To boost energy and fibre, blend in some oats. And to boost your protein intake, try adding some silken tofu or hemp protein to the mix.

Omega-3 boost: Blueberry and banana smoothie with ground flaxseed
Serves 1

This sweet and creamy smoothie will give you a welcome boost of omega-3 and fibre.  You can buy ground flaxseed. Or even better – buy whole flaxseed and freshly grind them in a coffee grinder or in a smoothie maker designed for the job.

  • 100g natural probiotic yoghurt
  • 1 small banana
  • Handful blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 100ml skimmed milk (or a milk substitute such as soya milk or oat milk)
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • Optional: seeds from one vanilla pod
Tribest Blenders
Our new Tribest blenders are perfect for smoothie making!

Sports recovery shake: High protein summer fruits

Hemp is not only a source of plant-based easy-to-digest protein, but it also boasts significant amounts of fibre, magnesium, iron and essential fatty acids.  Montmorency cherries in CherryActive ‘mop up’ free radicals produced by training, helping to support muscle repair and prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

  • One banana
  • Two handfuls frozen summer fruits
  • 3-4 tbsp hemp protein powder
  • 250ml skimmed milk (or a milk substitute such as soya milk or oat milk)
  • Optional: 20ml CherryActive concentrate

Kids Eat Your Greens! Popeye’s Sweet Spinach Smoothie

A brilliant way to encourage kids to eat their greens!  Children love the sweetness of the fresh strawberries and banana, while the spinach is loaded with antioxidants, iron, Vitamin K and magnesium.

  • Large handful spinach
  • 10 strawberries
  • 1 small banana
  • 200ml water
  • 50ml natural probiotic yoghurt
  • Optional: honey to taste

Written by Nadia Mason


(1). Udani JK et al. Effect of Acai berry preparation on metabolic parameters in a healthy overweight population: a pilot study. Nutrition Journal 2011; 10:45

(2)  Image courtesy of gameanna.




Study finds fibre intake may be associated with a reduced risk of death from various causes

Previous studies have suggested that diets high in fibre may lower the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some cancers.   Fibre can assist with bowel movements, reduce blood cholesterol levels, improve blood glucose levels, lower blood pressure, promote weight loss and reduce inflammation and bind to potential cancer-causing agents in the gut to increase the likelihood they will be excreted by the body.  A newly published study (1) now suggests that fibre may be associated with a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, infectious and respiratory diseases, as well as a reduced risk of death from any condition.

The researchers involved in the study (1) examined dietary fibre intake in relation to total mortality and death from specific causes in a large group of individuals.  Data was analysed from 219,123 men and 168,999 women.  Study participants completed a detailed food frequency questionnaire at the start of the study in 1995 and 1996.  Over a period of around 9 years follow up, causes of death were determined by using records and registries.  Fibre intake in the group of individuals ranged from around 13g – 29g per day for men and 11g – 26g per day for women.  Over the course of the study, 20,126 men and 11,330 women died.

When the researchers analysed the data they found that fibre intake was associated with a significantly lowered risk of total death in both men and women (1): the one-fifth of men and women consuming the most fibre (29.4 grams per day for men and 25.8 grams for women) were 22% less likely to die from any cause than those consuming the least (12.6 grams per day for men and 10.8 grams for women).  Dietary fibre intake was also associated with a lowered risk of death from cardiovascular, infectious, and respiratory diseases by 24%-56% in men and by 34%-59% in women.  In addition to this, in men a high intake of fibre was associated with a lowered risk of death from cancer.

The authors of the study conclude that “Dietary fibre may reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular, infectious, and respiratory diseases. Making fibre-rich food choices more often may provide significant health benefits

There are many ways that having a diet high in fibre could be helping to reduce the risk of death from various causes.  In a comment on the study two authors note (3) that “dietary fibre is important in digestion, and its relationship with chronic disease has been a topic of great interest for many years. Fibre consists of undigestible plant carbohydrates in both soluble and insoluble forms.  Soluble fibre (eg, fruit pectin) dissolves in water to form a gel, whereas insoluble fibre (eg, cellulose from wheat bran) does not. Both increase stomach distension, which increases satiety, and slow nutrient absorption” “The main function of insoluble fibre is to increase fecal bulk.  Because these changes are thought to protect against the development of chronic diseases, a fibre-rich diet similar to that of early man is probably healthier than current Western-type diets

Previously I have mentioned how, in the UK, we tend to fall short of the daily recommendations for fibre provision.  Many of us reach only 12g/day, the recommendation is for at least 18g/day with many health professionals recommending around 25g/day.  Please read my other posts relating to fibre.  Eating a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts/seeds and low in processed foods is a good way to ensure high daily fibre intakes.  Fruits, vegetables and wholegrains also provide the body with vitamins, minerals and flavonoids (bioactive plant compounds) which are needed for optimal body function and health.

There are also many fibre supplements available but these lack the other nutritional benefits provided from plant foods (e.g. vitamins and minerals) that plant foods contain and supplements can never be viewed as an alternative to a healthy diet.  One supplement that may be worth considering is FOS, fructo-oligosaccharides, since this provides a form of fibre but is also a prebiotic and hence has other health benefits.  A prebiotic is a food that stimulates the growth of the beneficial bacteria already present in the colon.  Just 5g daily could be beneficial for a number of reasons as well as boosting fibre intakes.  Always check with a medical doctor prior to beginning a new supplement regimen.

(1)Park Y et al.  2011.  Dietary Fibre Intake and Mortality in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.  Arch Intern Med.  Published online February 14, 2011. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.18

(2)Press Release.  JAMA and Archives Journals (2011, February 14). Fibre intake associated with reduced risk of death. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 15, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/02/110214162928.htm

(3) de Koning L and Hu F B.  2011.  Do the Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre Extend Beyond Cardiovascular Disease?: Comment on “Dietary Fibre Intake and Mortality in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study” .  Arch Intern Med. 2011;0(2011):2011191-2.

Written by Ani Kowal


Mediterranean diet shown to help those with heart problems

The health benefits of following a Mediterranean-style diet is something I have written about many times with regards prevention of certain conditions, especially heart conditions.  A new study (1) has found that following a traditional Mediterranean-style diet can also help patients with existing heart disease to stay healthy and possibly prevent future adverse heart problems.

A traditional Mediterranean style of eating includes plentiful amounts of vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, olive oil, legumes (beans and peas), wholegrains, fish (including oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel) and low-fat dairy products.  The study (1) investigated the potential benefits of following such an eating pattern for individuals who already had diagnosed heart disease (had suffered a heart attack or severe chest pain).  The researchers looked at 1,000 patients who had suffered a heart attack or severe chest pain while at rest or with light exertion.  Each individual was given a score for their diet on a scale of 0-55, depending on how closely their current eating style matched the traditional Mediterranean ideal. 

Almost 50% of the patients involved in the study experienced a second heart-related adverse health event within two years after their original hospital discharge.  The individuals who had diets which most closely matched the Mediterranean-style diet had a 31% lower risk of suffering another heart attack or experiencing severe chest pain during the first month after they were discharged from the hospital compared to those patients whose diet was least closely matched to the Mediterranean diet (1).  These individuals with the high Mediterranean diet score were also only half as likely as those with the least Mediterranean-style eating habits to have another heart-related event within a year, and nearly 40% less likely to experience repeat heart problems within two years after initial hospital discharge (1).

The researchers analysed the data and found that for every additional point on the 0-55 point scale of the Mediterranean diet score an individual’s risk of having another heart-related event over the next two years fell by around 12%.  Those patients with diets which were closest to the Mediterranean ideal were also the least likely to experience reductions in the ability of the heart’s main pumping chamber to work at full capacity, as well as harmful structural changes to the heart (cardiac remodelling) (1).

The researchers wanted to see if they could elucidate whether any particular component of the Mediterranean eating pattern was most important.  When they analysed separate components of the Mediterranean diet, they found that vegetables, salad and nuts seemed to be the foods associated to reduced risk.  Individuals who ate vegetables, salad or nuts daily or weekly had an apparent 20% lower risk of repeat heart problems within two years of their initial hospitalization compared to people who ate these foods monthly or less often (1).

The study is only an association study and does not prove that a Mediterranean style diet can prevent further hear problems in individuals who have experienced prior adverse heart events.  However, the study does add to the evidence that healthy eating has an important role to play in health protection strategies.


(1)Chrysohoou C et al.  2010.  The Mediterranean diet contributes to the preservation of left ventricular systolic function and to the long-term favorable prognosis of patients who have had an acute coronary event.  Am J Clin Nutr (May 19, 2010 E-pub prior to print). doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.2898

Written by Ani Kowal


Refined carbohydrates linked again with increased risk of heart disease

In February this year I wrote about the links between refined carbohydrate and heart disease and mentioned some studies which suggested that sugary carbohydrates and those which increased blood sugar levels quickly (carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index, or GI) seemed to be a greater risk for heart disease than fat.

A recent study (1) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has concluded (1)that replacing SFAs [saturated fatty acids] with carbohydrates with low-GI values is associated with a lower risk of MI [myocardial infarction, or heart attack], whereas replacing SFAs with carbohydrates with high-GI values is associated with a higher risk of MI”.  The authors write in their introduction that studies suggest that replacing saturated fatty acids with carbohydrates has been modestly associated with a higher risk of ischemic heart disease, whereas replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease.  However, they point out that it is important to look at the type of carbohydrates consumed since different carbohydrates have very different effects in the body.

High glycaemic index foods (foods that release sugar quickly into the body) include most refined carbohydrates like white bread, long-grain rice, sweets, biscuits, sugary foods and many other processed carbohydrates and processed foods. Foods that release sugar quickly into the bloodstream have what is known as a high Glycaemic Index (GI), meals that favour a spike in blood sugar levels are said to have a high Glycaemic Load (GL).  To identify foods with a high glycaemic index that will contribute to increasing the GL of a meal please view the website The Glycemic Index, there you will find a database where you can search for specific foods and find out more about GI and health. 

 Briefly, unbalanced blood sugar levels following a meal (post-prandial dysmetabolism) can cause havoc in the body.  A high post-meal blood sugar level can lead to damaging free radicals (reactive oxygen molecules) being released which are a risk for atherosclerosis (damage to blood vessels) and metabolic syndrome (a big risk factor for heart disease).  The high blood sugar can lead to internal inflammation, dysfunction in the lining of the blood vessels and may also lead to an increase in triglycerides (blood fats) – all risk factors for heart disease. 

The authors of this research paper (1) aimed to investigate the risk of heart attack, (myocardial infarction), associated with a high carbohydrate diet, they also looked at the different glycaemic index of the carbohydrates.  The study involved over 53,000 individuals, none of whom had suffered a heart attack at the start of the study.  The individuals were followed for an average of 12 years, during this time almost 2000 heart attacks occurred.  They found that there was a statistically significant positive association between substitution of saturated fats with carbohydrates with high GI values and risk of heart attack.

Again these results only show and association and not cause and effect but the evidence does add to other studies which indicate that replacing fat intake with sugary, refined carbohydrates probably won’t be good for the heart, or the body in general.  Low fat diets really are not all that they were once hyped-up to be.  Please read my previous posts here and here for more information and also any of my posts regarding the healthy omega 3  fats and how important they are for health

As I have written previously, personally I feel that the take home message from studies such as these is that a healthy diet, based around natural unprocessed and unrefined foods, is crucially important to prevent disease risk.  Any health-full diet will be rich in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds and will include unprocessed meats and fish (especially oily fish), wholegrain unprocessed and unrefined carbohydrates.  Particularly I feel that omega 3 fats  are important to health.  I would also suggest that refined carbohydrates are generally unnecessary and quite possibly damaging to health when eaten regularly and consistently.

(1)Jakobsen UM et al.  2010.  Intake of carbohydrates compared with intake of saturated fatty acids and risk of myocardial infarction: importance of the glycemic index.  Am J Clin Nutr 91: 1764-1768

Written by Ani Kowal


Women eating foods with a high glycaemic index could be increasing their risk for heart disease

The Glycaemic Index (or GI) is something I have written about a number of times.  There appears to be a link between eating refined carbohydrates, imbalances in blood sugar (blood glucose) levels and heart disease.  Eating a diet loaded with foods with a high glycaemic index or high glycaemic load has been increasingly linked with a raised risk for heart disease and other health problems. 

High glycaemic index foods are foods that release sugar quickly into the body.  They include most refined carbohydrates like white bread, long-grain rice, sweets, biscuits, sugary foods, ice-cream and many other processed carbohydrates and processed foods.   Glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL) are terms used to characterise foods and diets based on their effects on blood glucose levels.  Foods that release sugar quickly into the bloodstream have what is known as a high Glycaemic Index (GI), meals that favour a spike in blood sugar levels are said to have a high Glycaemic Load (GL).  White bread, potatoes, processed/refined carbohydrates have a high glycaemic index i.e. they tend to cause a rapid surge in blood sugar.  Vegetables, whole-grain high-fibre carbohydrates, create a more gradual change in blood sugar levels and are considered to have a low glycemic index.  For the classification of more food examples please visit the website ‘The Glycemic Index’, there you will find a database where you can search for specific foods and find out more about GI and health. 

A recent study (1) has found that a “high dietary GL and carbohydrate intake from high-GI foods increase the overall risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] in women but not men”.  The study investigated the association of GI and GL with coronary heart disease in over 47,000 Italian individuals (men and women).  The individuals involved completed a dietary questionnaire and were followed for almost 8 years.  Over 450 cases of coronary heart disease were identified in this time.  When the data was analysed by the authors it was found that women who had the highest carbohydrate intakes had a significantly   greater risk of coronary heart disease than those women with the lowest intakes.  No association was found in men.  It was also found that increasing carbohydrate intake from high GI foods was also significantly associated with a greater risk of coronary heart disease in women, whereas increasing the intake of low GI carbohydrates was not.  Women with the highest GL also had a significantly greater risk of coronary heart disease than women with the lowest GL diets.  The authors of the study say  “Thus, a high consumption of carbohydrates from high-glycemic index foods, rather than the overall quantity of carbohydrates consumed, appears to influence the risk of developing coronary heart disease,”.  The authors also say that “further prospective studies are required to verify a lack of association of a high dietary glycemic load with cardiovascular disease in men,”

I have written about blood sugar and the link to heart disease this year  and last year.  Unbalanced blood sugar levels following a meal can lead to high levels of free radicals being released in the body – these can cause damage to blood vessels.  High blood sugar levels can also lead to high triglyceride levels (blood fats) a risk for metabolic syndrome which is in itself a huge risk for heart disease.  Inflammation can also result from high blood sugar levels.  More research is needed in the area of GI and GL diets and risk for disease.

A healthy balanced diet will include low GI carbohydrates such as beans, lentils, nuts, vegetables and wholegrains.  These kinds of foods stop post meal spikes in blood glucose and blood fats (triglycerides).  As mentioned in the posts linked above omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel may also play a role in reducing triglyceride levels and  heart disease.  Eating at least two portions per week is advisable. 

(1)Sieri S et al.  2010.  Coronary Heart Disease in a Large Italian Cohort: The EPICOR Study. Arch Intern Med.  170 (7): 640-647

Written by Ani Kowal


Sunny days make for a happy heart – a new study links vitamin D to heart health

On the 30th May  I wrote about the importance of Vitamin D for health and concentrated mainly on the link to cancer prevention.

Yesterday a study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine(1) which adds to the growing body of research that links low vitamin D levels to poorer heart health.

This particular study involved a group of 18225 middle aged and older men (aged 40-75 years).  The men were free of diagnosed heart disease at the initial blood collection.  They were then followed for 10 years and in this time 454 developed heart attacks (which were either fatal or non fatal).  The study scientists then compared the blood levels of vitamin D in those men who had suffered a heart attack to a group of 900 similar men (matched for certain factors such as age and smoking status) who had not.  The results showed that men with low blood levels of vitamin D were at increased risk of heart attack compared to men with sufficient levels.  Even men with intermediate blood levels of vitamin D were at increased risk of heart attack.

The findings are significant as the scientists adjusted the results to exclude a whole host of other possible confounding factors such as family history of heart attack, weight (Body Mass Index), alcohol consumption, physical activity levels, history of diabetes, blood pressure, ethnicity, omega 3 fatty acid intake and cholesterol levels.  Even when these factors were taken into account the men with low vitamin D levels were twice as likely to experience a heart attack than those with high vitamin D levels.

The authors of the study conclude that “Low levels of 25(OHD) [vitamin D] are associated with a higher risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack] in a graded manner, even after controlling for factors known to be associated with coronary artery disease”

Previous studies have linked low vitamin D levels to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.  As I mentioned in my previous post on vitamin D many of us in the UK may not have adequate levels of vitamin D in our blood.  A supplement of 12mcg/d (around 500iu) could be useful to those who rarely get out in the sunlight or during the autumn and winter months.

It is not entirely understood why vitamin D is so important for the health of the heart.  There are indications that vitamin D acts to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals (cytokines) which are linked to heart disease and may even increase the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals which are protective.  Vitamin D may also have an effect on certain hormones which play an important role in the regulation of blood pressure. 

(1)Giovannucci E et al.  2008.  25-Hydroxyvitamin D and risk of myocardial infarction in men: a prospective study.  Arch Intern Med.  168:1181-1187

Written by Ani Kowal