Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happiness may protect against heart disease

The most probable explanation for these findings is that healthier people are happier

People who are usually happy, enthusiastic and content are less likely than others to develop heart illness, according to a new study.

The scientists involved say the study, published in the European Heart Journal, is the first to show an independent relationship between positive emotions and coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease. Previous studies had linked happiness with long life, but the exact reasons for that association are uncertain.

Karina Davidson of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who led the new study, said it suggests heart disease might be in some degree preventable through positive emotions. But it would be premature to make clinical recommendations without further study, she added.

"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/or patients could do to improve health," said Davidson, who directs Columbia's Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health.

Over 10 years, Davidson and colleagues tracked 1,739 healthy adults, split about evenly between men and women, participating in a study known as the 1995 Nova Scotia Health Survey. At the start, trained nurses assessed the participants' risk of heart disease and, with both selfreporting and clinical assessment, they measured symptoms of depression, hostility, anxiety and the degree of expression of positive emotions, which is known as "positive affect."

Positive affect is defined as the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment. These feelings can be transient, but they are usually stable and traitlike, particularly in adulthood, according to researchers. Positive affect is largely independent of negative affect, so that someone who is generally a happy, contented person can also be occasionally anxious, angry or depressed.

After taking account of age, sex, cardiovascular risk factors and negative emotions, the scientists found that increased positive affect predicted less risk of heart disease by 22 percent per point on a fivepoint scale measuring levels of positive affect expression. "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," Davidson said. "As far as we know, this is the first prospective study to examine the relationship between clinicallyassessed positive affect and heart disease."

"We have several possible explanations" for the effect, said Davidson. "First, those with positive affect may have longer periods of rest or relaxation physiologically," making their bodies better able to regulate blood pressure and heart rate. "Second, those with positive affect may recover more quickly from stressors, and may not spend as much time `reliving' them, which in turn seems to cause physiological damage. This is speculative, as we are just beginning to explore why positive emotions and happiness have positive health benefits."


Women who use the Pill can expect to live longer, Royal College of GPs finds

Some rare realism in red below

Research involving 46,000 British women over nearly 40 years has confirmed that the Pill is not linked to long-term health risks from cancer or heart disease, according to the report in the British Medical Journal. While younger women are at slightly higher risk of suffering heart attack, stroke or breast and cervical cancers while taking the Pill, researchers say this effect is negligible, and outweighed by wider benefits.

Any adverse effects of the Pill disappear within ten years of stopping take it, and could easily be counteracted by regular checks and a healthy lifestyle, they said.

Philip Hannaford, a professor at the University of Aberdeen who led the study for the Royal College of GPs, said that over a lifetime, women who took the Pill at any stage were less likely to die from any cause than those who did not. “Our best estimate is that if you took a group of 100,000 women, and they used the pill for a year, on average you would have 52 fewer deaths in those women compared to those using other forms of contraception.”

Professor Hannaford said that the beneficial effects may only be true for women who have taken older-style pills — rather than those on newer drugs, which may have slightly different formulations. But he added that the lower risks were probably not a direct result of the Pill. “It might be that the characteristics of these women, that they are more likely to use health services, have blood checks or other monitoring means they are at reduced risk.”

The study, organised by the Royal College of GPs, began in 1968 when 23,000 women who used oral contraceptives for an average of four years, and a similar number who didn’t, were recruited from 1,400 surgeries across Britain. Early results had suggested that taking the Pill could increase the risk of death, mainly from heart or circulatory disease. The latest findings show that there were 20 more deaths per 100,000 among women younger than 30 who took the Pill, and four more deaths per 100,000 among those aged 30-39. But by the age of 50, the benefits outweighed these risks, with 14 fewer deaths per 100,000 among those aged 40-49, and an even greater effect among older women.

Professor Hannaford said yesterday that the risks were small for women under 45, and were mainly seen in those who smoked, had high blood pressure, or were otherwise at risk of heart disease. “We know that the Pill does cause changes in clotting factors and some of the factors in biochemistry, so the increased risk of heart disease and stroke is explainable,” he said. “The way to minimise the risk is that you don’t smoke, have your blood pressure measured regularly, attend the cervical screening programme and maintain a healthy diet and exercise. That will make your risk very low, and there are also benefits.”

He added that although the Pill was associated with a increased risk of breast or cervical cancer, it could reduce the chances of developing ovarian, bowel or endometrial cancer.

While women should not be complacent about taking any medication, he said: “Many women, especially those who used the first generation of oral contraceptives many years ago, are likely to be reassured by our results. “However, our findings might not reflect the experience of women using oral contraceptives today, if currently available preparations have a different risk than earlier products.”

Patricia Lohr, medical director at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said that the scale and length of the study was “unusual and very helpful”. “It’s reassuring to see that, over time, having used the Pill as a method of birth control is at least as safe as not having used the Pill at all,” she said.


Hollywood Serves Up Food Elitism

Food, Inc. failed to win the best “documentary” Oscar on Sunday, but that likely won’t diminish its influence. If you’ve seen this one-sided hit piece on modern agriculture, you know that it’s a thinly veiled advocacy film for organic and local foods in true Michael Pollan style. That such a film draws so much attention is evidence of Hollywood’s fad fascination with organic foodie-ism.

As author and professor James McWilliams noted yesterday, though, foodie obsessions with a romantic, 19th century-style agriculture are nothing new or novel—people have had such yearnings for decades. And today we write in the pages of The Detroit News to take Tinseltown celebrities to task for their misguided activism that lacks much flavor:
For average Americans, bringing home the bacon gets a lot harder when you have to buy $29-per-pound artisanal cured pork belly. But that hasn't stopped Hollywood's out-of-touch food purists from trying to guilt-trip all of us into changing the way we eat.

Promoting a vegetarian lifestyle by focusing on health benefits may seem intuitive, but it shouldn't be. A 2006 Oxford University study found that vegetarians are just as likely as omnivores to die from strokes, and from colon, breast, and prostate cancer. And research has repeatedly shown that organic fruits and vegetables are no healthier than their conventionally grown counterparts….

When Food Rules writer Michael Pollan sat in the cushy guest seat on Oprah in January, the darling of the "slow food" scene smugly exhorted viewers: "We all can vote with our forks." I couldn't agree more – but I don't think Pollan will like the results.


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