Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy and enthusiastic people less prone to heart disease, say researchers

The usual confusion of cause and effect. What the findings most parsimoniously imply is that healthy people are happier

People who are typically happy and enthusiastic are less likely to develop heart disease than those of a gloomier disposition, researchers say. An increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke has previously been linked to getting angry or stressed, but a study by American researchers, published in the European Heart Journal, claims to be the first to show an independent link between emotions and coronary heart disease.

The findings suggest that it may be possible to help to prevent heart disease by boosting a person's mood, says the lead researcher, Karina Davidson, of Columbia University, New York. "Everyone should try and inject some fun into their daily routines to counteract any effects of stress on their health, rather than waiting for holidays," she said. "Some people wait for their two weeks of vacation to have fun, and that would be analogous to binge drinking. "Essentially, spending some few minutes each day truly relaxed and enjoying yourself is certainly good for your mental health, and may improve your physical health as well."

Over ten years Dr Davidson and colleagues tracked the health of 1,739 adults who participated in a 1995 health survey in Nova Scotia, Canada.Nurses assessed participants' risk of heart disease and measured symptoms of depression, hostility, anxiety and their degree of positive emotions, referred to as "positive affect".

Writing in the European Heart Journal, the researchers define positive affect as the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment. Although these feelings can be transitory or short-lived, they can also represent stable character traits, particularly in adulthood, they add.

The study participants were awarded a score out of five for positive affect, varying from "none" to "extreme" depending on their answers to questions on how they responded to stressful situations or expressed their emotions. After taking account of age, sex and cardiovascular risk factors, the researchers found that, over the ten-year period, people with increased scores for positive affect were less likely to suffer a fatal or non-fatal heart attack or stroke. "Participants with no positive affect were at a 22 per cent higher risk of heart disease than those with a little positive affect, who were themselves at 22 per cent higher risk than those with moderate positive affect," Dr Davidson said. "We also found that if someone who was usually positive had some depressive symptoms at the time of the survey, this did not affect their overall lower risk of heart disease.

She suggested there could be several possible explanations for the link, including typically happy people having longer periods of rest or relaxation, or being able to recover more quickly from stress or anxiety. They may also not spend as much time "re-living" or dwelling on depressing events, "which in turn seems to cause physiological damage," she added.

Dr Davidson said that to improve mood and relaxation, people should devote time daily to a hobby or preferred leisure pursuit. "If you enjoy reading novels, but never get around to it, commit to getting 15 minutes or so of reading in. If walking or listening to music improves your mood, get those activities in your schedule.

She added that more studies were needed to confirm the link between mood and physical health: "We desperately need rigorous clinical trials in this area." "If the trials support our findings, then these results will be incredibly important in describing specifically what clinicians and patients could do to improve health."

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said that the charity was funding ongoing research to "unravel the biology" that underlies the link between happiness and health. But she warned that existing risk factors such as obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise or smoking should not be discounted. "Today's study used an experimental design that is great for observing trends and associations, but doesn't prove cause and effect or tell us for sure whether changing our mood can definitely reduce our risk of heart disease," she added.

"This research suggested that those who naturally had a `glass half-full' mood seemed to be most protected from disease. But we're not all like that, and we know that improving your mood isn't always easy - so we don't know if it's possible to change our natural levels of positivity. "We would of course recommend that people take time to indulge in healthy activities that can lift their mood, but trying to keep established risk factors under control remains really important."


Now gas stoves are bad for you

This is all just theory

Frying meat on a gas hob may increase your risk of cancer, researchers claim. They found fumes from steak pan-fried on a gas flame contained more cancer-causing particles than those from an electric hob. Scientists believe hotter gas flames release more harmful chemicals from oil in the cooking process and warn that chefs may be particularly at risk.

Their research follows findings that eating overcooked or burnt red meat increases the risk of tumours due to the creation of carcinogenic compounds called acrylamides.

The latest study simulated a typical Western European restaurant kitchen, frying 17 pieces of steak in either margarine or soya bean oil for 15 minutes on gas and electric hobs. Experts then examined the fine and ultra-fine particles in fumes produced by the cooking.

Their findings published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded frying with a gas flame increased the exposure to toxic chemicals called mutagenic aldehydes and heterocyclic amines. These have been judged 'probably carcinogenic' by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is not yet known what level of exposure to these components is safe, the researchers said.

They believe the higher temperature of gas, compared with electric hobs, leads to more potentially harmful breakdown products from oils. The gas flame may also lead to more ultra-fine particles.

Dangerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have also been found in cooking fumes from vegetable oils, such as soya bean and rapeseed oils as well as lard. But the authors say levels of PAHs found during this study were below safety thresholds.

The team at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, said: 'Exposure to cooking fumes should be reduced as much as possible.' Their article concluded: 'The measured levels of total particles and PAHs for the cooks in our study are far below Norwegian occupational exposure limits.'

Dr Deborah Jarvis, of the National Heart and Lung Institute, said the study could help shed light on previous research that sought to link frying with gas to breathing problems - such as coughs, infections and asthma - but proved inconclusive. She added: 'The health message to the public remains the same - keep your kitchen well-ventilated when cooking, and make sure all your gas appliances are well maintained.'


Miscarriages: A good news story from Britain

A woman who suffered 18 miscarriages has given birth to a healthy baby girl named Raiya, thanks to a pioneering technique of diagnosing and treating multiple miscarriages developed at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Angie Baker (33) had been trying to have a baby for 13 years, but although doctors could not diagnose what was causing it, she repeatedly suffered a miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy. But Angie refused to give up hope. She said: "I just knew that I was meant to be a mother. Every time I miscarried I felt more determined. I never felt like giving up. "Even though doctors couldn't tell my why it was happening, I felt sure there was a cure. I just knew I had to persevere."

After years of trying and 17 miscarriages, Angie read about Dr Hassan Shehata, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Trust, who has spent the last ten years researching and helping women who suffer recurrent miscarriages. She got in touch and made an appointment with him.

Dr Shehata had been working with an immunologist at the Trust, Dr Amolak Bansal, to find out why some women's bodies reject their pregnancies. Their work focused on 'natural killer cells', which are found in everyone's white blood cells (which defend your body against infections and foreign bodies).

They found that some women's natural killer cells are so aggressive they attack the pregnancy, which is exactly what was happening to Angie.

Dr Shehata said: "About ten years ago, a doctor in the states proved that there was a link between these natural killer cells and infertility. I became interested in the subject and we began work to further study the link. "After three years of hard work, we mastered it. We knew how to test the function of the natural killer tests to see how aggressive they were and we knew how to treat it. By giving suitable women steroids, we can lower the number of natural killer cells and increase their chances of having a baby."

Speaking about Angie's experience, Dr Shehata added: "Angie is an amazing woman. She is a very strong woman, and had such a great sense of belief. The odds of having so many miscarriages are miniscule, but she was so determined to carry on. I am so happy that she has got her dream - a healthy daughter.

Angie added: "I can't explain how I feel. I have to pinch myself sometimes because I just can't believe it's happened - she's perfect in every way. Being a mum is everything I thought it would be, and I'm just so happy that Dr Shehata could help me. I cannot thank him enough."


No comments: