An Update on New Research – Part 2

IMG_8348rt5x7bwThere is always plenty of research being conducted on heart disease prevention, but this week I decided to go straight to the source. This week I will be blogging directly from the Cardiometabolic Health Congress in Boston – a collection of presentations on recent concepts and new research in the treatment of conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. The goal? To prevent heart disease and stroke.

For part 1 of my post, see here.

At this meeting, we have been hearing from experts in the fields of heart prevention, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. To point out some key findings, here are common questions from patients and the answers from some of the speakers at this meeting:

What type of exercise is best for prevention?  We all understand the importance of staying active, and many of us now count our steps to ensure we meet our activity goals. But one expert pointed out that to have maximal impact on weight loss, we need to go beyond light activity – he termed them “sweat episodes”. We should aim for 3-5 “sweat episodes” weekly – and no specific type of exercise to accomplish this is superior. For much more information on exercise, click here.

What diet is best to prevent heart disease? We are bombarded with diet advice – but very few diets have really been studied to see their effect on disease prevention. Dr. Frank Sachs, a Professor of Nutrition here is Boston, summarized the evidence for many of the commonly recommended diets. His conclusion – a Mediterranean Diet has the best evidence for prevention – not just for heart disease and stroke, but there is also evidence that it can improve mental function! Here are his slides summarizing the diet and its benefits:

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Slides reproduced from Dr. Frank Sacks “The Science Behind Heart Healthy Nutrition”, October 23, 2015

What is the ideal blood pressure target? For years, we have used 140/90 as a “target” blood pressure for patients on therapy for high blood pressure.   However, an important new study which was announced recently suggests that a more aggressive target (below 130) may be better at preventing heart complications. This study generated a lot of media attention – but the experts here warn that the full study has yet to be released and analyzed. However, it is promising evidence that “lower may be better” – stay tuned for further advice.

Why is high blood pressure so difficult to control? It is frustrating to patients with HBP (and their doctors!) when their BP cannot be fully controlled, even with multiple medications. Dr. George Bakris, an expert on hypertension, notes that the most common culprit (other than missing medication!) is excess sodium in the diet. Even patients who think they are “watching their salt” may be eating more than needed, especially from hidden sources. This can cancel out the effect of medication. The optimal diet for patients with HBP is the “DASH” diet – for more information, see here. 

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