Insulin resistance increases cardiovascular disease

Insulin resistance (IR), resistance of the insulin receptor due to overstimulation, elicits a rise of insulin levels to overcome the reduced receptor sensitivity. The resulting elevated insulin levels damage tissues throughout the body, and are a major contributing cause of cardiovascular disease. This is well known to many practitioners, so it was disturbing to read an article in the New York Times describing endocrinologists who are baffled by the fact that medications for type 2 diabetes that increase insulin levels worsen the risk for cardiovascular disease. The wealth of scientific evidence has been accumulating for a long time.

Insulin resistance and coronary artery disease

Insulin resistance and CADA study published in 1996 in the journal Diabetologia described the strong connection between CAD (coronary artery disease) and insulin resistance with its consequent hyperinsulinemia.

“The purpose of the present study was to quantitate insulin-mediated glucose disposal in normal glucose tolerant patients with angiographically documented coronary artery disease (CAD) and to define the pathways responsible for the insulin resistance.”

Of particular interest is that all the study subjects, both those with CAD and controls, had a normal oral glucose tolerance test. HOWEVER…

Fasting plasma insulin concentration and area under the plasma insulin curve following glucose ingestion were increased in CAD vs control subjects. Insulin-mediated whole body glucose disposal was significantly decreased in CAD subjects and this was entirely due to diminished non-oxidative glucose disposal. The magnitude of insulin resistance was positively correlated with the severity of CAD.”

It is hard to over emphasize the importance to clinicians of being vigilant in recognizing insulin resistance in the presence of normal glucose levels.

“In the CAD subjects basal and insulin-mediated rates of glucose and lipid oxidation were normal and insulin caused a normal suppression of hepatic glucose production. In conclusion, subjects with angiographically documented CAD are characterized by moderate-severe insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia and should be included in the metabolic and cardiovascular cluster of disorders that comprise the insulin resistance syndrome or ’syndrome X’.

Hypertension, Dyslipidemia, and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease

In 1991 a paper published in Diabetes Care described how insulin resistance promotes multiple factors that cause atherosclerosis.

“Diabetes mellitus is commonly associated with systolic/diastolic hypertension, and a wealth of epidemiological data suggest that this association is independent of age and obesity. Much evidence indicates that the link between diabetes and essential hypertension is hyperinsulinemia. Thus, when hypertensive patients, whether obese or of normal body weight, are compared with age- and weight-matched normotensive control subjects, a heightened plasma insulin response to a glucose challenge is consistently found.”


“…insulin resistance…correlates directly with the severity of hypertension. The reasons for the association of insulin resistance and essential hypertension can be sought in at least four general types of mechanisms: Na+ retention, sympathetic nervous system overactivity, disturbed membrane ion transport, and proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells.”

It is also well-known that IR with its hyperinsulinemia cause elevated lipid levels.

Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia are also associated with an atherogenic plasma lipid profile. Elevated plasma insulin concentrations enhance very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) synthesis, leading to hypertriglyceridemia. Progressive elimination of lipid and apolipoproteins from the VLDL particle leads to an increased formation of intermediate-density and low-density lipoproteins, both of which are atherogenic.”

And elevated insulin directly fosters atherosclerosis:

“Last, insulin, independent of its effects on blood pressure and plasma lipids, is known to be atherogenic. The hormone enhances cholesterol transport into arteriolar smooth muscle cells and increases endogenous lipid synthesis by these cells. Insulin also stimulates the proliferation of arteriolar smooth muscle cells, augments collagen synthesis in the vascular wall, increases the formation of and decreases the regression of lipid plaques, and stimulates the production of various growth factors. In summary, insulin resistance appears to be a syndrome that is associated with a clustering of metabolic disorders, including non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, lipid abnormalities, and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”


Controlling insulin resistance more important than glucose or LDLA more recent study in Diabetes Care presents striking data demonstrating the massive impact reduction in heart attacks that would occur by preventing insulin resistance. In setting out to determine what portion of coronary artery disease is caused by IR, the authors used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1998–2004 to simulate a population representative of young adults in the U.S. They applied the Archimedes model was to estimate the proportion of heart attacks that would be prevented by maintaining insulin resistance at healthy levels. Their data painted a dramatic picture:

“In young adults, preventing insulin resistance would prevent ∼42% of myocardial infarctions. The next most important determinant of CAD is systolic hypertension, prevention of which would reduce myocardial infarctions by ∼36%. Following systolic blood pressure, the most important determinants are HDL cholesterol (31%), BMI (21%), LDL cholesterol (16%), triglycerides (10%), fasting plasma glucose and smoking (both ∼9%), and family history (4%).”

Preventing insulin resistance beat the pants off controlling LDL cholesterol and smoking! Interestingly, they found that the effects were especially important for women:

“The effects of insulin resistance are also affected by sex. Today’s young men face a higher rate of myocardial infarctions than today’s young women: 55 vs. 32%. However, insulin resistance plays a larger relative role in women than in men, with normalization of insulin resistance reducing the myocardial infarction rate ∼57% for women (from 32 to 14%), compared with ∼29% (from 55 to 39%) for men.”

Preventing insulin resistance carries more weight than controlling glucose

In their conclusion the authors make points that are crucial for clinicians to bear in mind:

“Of the risk factors that we believe are sufficiently well studied to permit quantitative analysis, insulin resistance is the most important single risk factor for CAD. Our results indicate that insulin resistance is responsible for approximately 42% of myocardial infarctions. Its effect on CAD is indirect, mediated through its effects on other variables such as SBP, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and apoB.”

Effect of insulin resistance on myocardial infarction

In comparing their results with other research, the authors highlight the critical error made by depending on medications that increase insulin to control glucose:

“Our results are not directly comparable with those of clinical trials, where the effects of glucose lowering on CAD were either much smaller or null. The reason is that in the clinical trials, the focus was on lowering blood glucose—not preventing or curing insulin resistance. The drugs used in the trials either lowered glucose without affecting insulin resistance (e.g., sulfonylureas and insulin) or lowered insulin resistance to some extent but did not eliminate it (e.g., metformin and rosiglitazone). Furthermore, we normalized insulin resistance over the entire lifetimes of the subjects, whereas the treatments in the trials were given only after individuals had developed diabetes and were given only for the limited durations of the studies. Thus, the results of the trials do not represent the full eff

ect of normalizing insulin resistance and are actually consistent with our results.”

Note the implication that cardiovascular damage by IR occurs long before losing glucose control and crossing the border into diabetes territory.

Insulin resistance without diabetes causes cardiovascular disease

Investigators publishing in PLoS One make the same point about cardiovascular damage caused by IR well before diabetes sets in.

“To enable a comparison between cardiovascular disease risks for glucose, insulin and HOMA-IR, we calculated pooled relative risks per increase of one standard deviation…We included 65 studies (involving 516,325 participants) in this meta-analysis. In a random-effect meta-analysis the pooled relative risk of CHD (95% CI; I2) comparing high to low concentrations was 1.52 (1.31, 1.76; 62.4%) for glucose, 1.12 (0.92, 1.37; 41.0%) for insulin and 1.64 (1.35, 2.00; 0%) for HOMA-IR. The pooled relative risk of CHD per one standard deviation increase was 1.21 (1.13, 1.30; 64.9%) for glucose, 1.04 (0.96, 1.12; 43.0%) for insulin and 1.46 (1.26, 1.69; 0.0%) for HOMA-IR.”

They concluded that insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) was the leading culprit:

“The relative risk of cardiovascular disease was higher for an increase of one standard deviation in HOMA-IR compared to an increase of one standard deviation in fasting glucose or fasting insulin concentration.”

The authors also demonstrate that IR is a much better biomarker than fasting insulin:

 “The present meta-analyses showed that fasting glucose, fasting insulin and HOMA-IR were all associated with incident cardiovascular disease in individuals without diabetes. In a standardized meta-analysis we found that coronary heart disease risk increased with 46% for an increase of one standard deviation in HOMA-IR concentration compared to an increase of 21% for fasting glucose concentration and an increase of 4% for fasting insulin concentration.”

Insulin resistance causes fat expansion and vascular endothelial damage

An excellent paper published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology details how IR causes cardiovascular disease beyond abnormal glucose, lipids, hypertension, and its proinflammatory effects.

“…insulin’s action directly on vascular endothelium, atherosclerotic plaque macrophages, and in the heart, kidney, and retina has now been described, and impaired insulin signaling in these locations can alter progression of cardiovascular disease in the metabolic syndrome and affect development of microvascular complications.”

The authors describe how IR causes vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis:

“Insulin action directly on vascular endothelial cells affects endothelial function beyond regulating blood flow or capillary recruitment. Conditional knockout of the insulin receptor in endothelial cells causes a 2- to 3-fold increase in the atherosclerotic lesion size in apolipoprotein E–null mice…the increased atherogenesis in this model can be attributed to insulin action directly on endothelial cells rather than effects mediated through systemic parameters. The accelerated atherosclerosis in mice with endothelial cell insulin receptor knockout is preceded by a dramatic increase in leukocyte rolling and adhesion to endothelium and an increase in expression of vascular cell adhesion molecule-1…insulin signaling independent of NO is responsible for this effect.”

They state that IR promotes the necrotic core at the heart of vulnerable plaque:

Insulin resistance in macrophages, however, promotes formation of a necrotic core in atherosclerotic plaques by enhancing macrophage apoptosis. This is an important event in advanced atherosclerosis because exposure of the necrotic core to circulating blood in the event of plaque rupture can precipitate thrombosis, leading to unstable angina pectoris, transitory cerebral ischemia, stroke, or myocardial infarction.”

Regarding cardiomyocyte function…

“…it is likely that the changes in metabolic substrate inflexibility and increased mitochondrial production of oxidants caused by cardiomyocyte insulin resistance can contribute to development of heart failure in the metabolic syndrome.”

The authors conclude with important clinical points:

“Research on insulin receptor signaling using tissue–specific gene manipulation in mice as well as other methods has provided important insights into insulin action and revealed insulin effects in tissues that a decade or 2 ago were considered nonresponsive to insulin….insulin sensitizers would theoretically have better profiles of action if they improved insulin resistance in tissues regulating glucose and lipid metabolism, as well as in the endothelium and other vascular tissues where impaired insulin signaling is proatherosclerotic independent of metabolic effects. Second, insulin analogues should be carefully evaluated for deleterious effects on insulin signaling pathways which are not affected by insulin resistance, such as those pathways which promote dyslipidemia or increase vascular expression of endothelin-1.”

Insulin resistance promotes advanced plaque progression

A paper published in Cell Metabolism details additional mechanisms by which IR promotes atherosclerosis. The authors note that…

“…the pathophysiological processes involved in the initiation and progression of early lesions are quite different from those that cause the formation of clinically dangerous plaques,…advanced plaque progression is influenced primarily by processes that promote plaque necrosis and thinning of a collagenous “scar” overlying the lesion called the fibrous cap… and distinguishing the effects of insulin resistance and hyperglycemia on these processes is critically important.”

They echo other investigators who point out the crucial fact that insulin resistance does damage before glucose control is lost:

“There is ample clinical evidence that insulin resistance increases the risk for coronary artery disease (CAD) even in the absence of hyperglycemia. Insulin resistance syndromes can promote both atherogenesis and advanced plaque progression, and the mechanisms likely involve both systemic factors that promote these processes, particularly dyslipidemia but also hypertension and a proinflammatory state, as well as the effect of perturbed insulin signaling at the level of the intimal cells that participate in atherosclerosis, including endothelial cells, vascular smooth muscle cells, and macrophages.”

They highlight the critical clinical implication that insulin resistance also entails overstimulation of various tissues by insulin elevated in compensation for receptor resistance or by insulin-elevating medications:

“…“insulin resistance” can mean either defective insulin receptor signaling or, ironically, overstimulation of insulin receptor pathways caused by hyperinsulinemia.”

They also note the difference between ‘ordinary’ atherosclerosis and the lesions, vulnerable plaque, that actually cause heart attacks and ischemic strokes.

“Most importantly, the primary objective of this study was to address an entirely different question, namely, the effect of myeloid IR deficiency on advanced lesional macrophage apoptosis and plaque necrosis. Recall that most atherosclerotic lesions in humans do not cause acute coronary artery disease, because they undergo outward remodeling of the arterial wall, which preserves lumen patency, and do not undergo plaque rupture or erosion and thus do not trigger acute lumenal thrombosis. The small percentage of lesions that do cause acute vascular disease are distinguished by the presence of large areas of necrosis and thin fibrous caps, which promote plaque disruption, acute lumenal thrombosis, and tissue infarction. This concept is particularly important for the topic of this review, because advanced atherosclerotic lesions in diabetic subjects are characterized by large necrotic cores when compared with similarly sized lesions from nondiabetic individuals”

In their conclusion the authors state the role of insulin resistance over hyperglycemia:

“These studies have provided evidence that insulin resistance in macrophages and endothelial cells may play important roles in both atherogenesis and clinically relevant advanced plaque progression. Hyperglycemia, on the other hand, appears to primarily promote early stages of lesion formation…”

Insulin resistance inhibits nitric oxide synthase

An interesting paper published in the Italian journal Panminerva Medica further elucidates key mechanisms, including the damage by IR to nitric oxide regulation done by increasing asymmetric dimethylarginine, which inhibits nitric oxide synthase. The author includes this under the rubric ‘insulin resistance syndrome’.

“…the more insulin resistant an individual, the more insulin they must secrete in order to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. However, the combination of insulin resistance and compensatory hyperinsulinemia increases the likelihood that an individual will be hypertensive, and have a dyslipidemia characterized by a high plasma triglyceride (TG) and low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) concentration….Several other clinical syndromes are now known to be associated with insulin resistance and compensatory hyperinsulinemia. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome appears to be secondary to insulin resistance and compensatory hyperinsulinemia. More recently, studies have shown that the prevalence of insulin resistance/hyperinsulinemia is increased in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and there are reports that certain forms of cancer are more likely to occur in insulin resistant/hyperinsulinemic persons. Finally, there is substantial evidence of an association between insulin resistance/hyperinsulinemia, and sleep disordered breathing. Given the rapid increase in the number of clinical syndromes and abnormalities associated with insulin resistance/hyperinsulinemia, it seems reasonable to suggest that the cluster of these changes related to the defect in insulin action be subsumed under the term of the insulin resistance syndrome.”

Specifically in regard to cardiovascular disease…

“…in addition to a high TG and a low HDL-C, the atherogenic lipoprotein profile in insulin resistant/hyperinsulinemic individuals also includes the appearance of smaller and denser low density lipoprotein particles, and the enhanced postprandial accumulation of remnant lipoproteins; changes identified as increasing risk of CVD. Elevated plasma concentrations of plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) have been shown to be associated with increased CVD, and there is evidence of a significant relationship between PAI-1 and fibrinogen levels and both insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia. Evidence is also accumulating that sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity is increased in insulin resistant, hyperinsulinemic individuals, and, along with the salt sensitivity associated with insulin resistance/hyperinsulinemia, increases the likelihood that these individuals will develop essential hypertension.”


“The first step in the process of atherogenesis is the binding of mononuclear cells to the endothelium, and mononuclear cells isolated from insulin resistant/hyperinsulinemic individuals adhere with greater avidity. This process is modulated by adhesion molecules produced by endothelial cells, and there is a significant relationship between degree of insulin resistance and the plasma concentration of the several of these adhesion molecules. Further evidence of the relationship between insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction is the finding that asymmetric dimethylarginine, an endogenous inhibitor of the enzyme nitric oxide synthase, is increased in insulin resistant/hyperinsulinemic individuals. Finally, plasma concentrations of several inflammatory markers are elevated in insulin resistant subjects.”


A paper published in Diabetes Metabolism Research and Reviews draws this point further.

“In recent years, it has become clear that insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction play a central role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Much evidence supports the presence of insulin resistance as the fundamental pathophysiologic disturbance responsible for the cluster of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders, known collectively as the metabolic syndrome. Endothelial dysfunction is an important component of the metabolic or insulin resistance syndrome and this is demonstrated by inadequate vasodilation and/or paradoxical vasoconstriction in coronary and peripheral arteries in response to stimuli that release nitric oxide (NO). Deficiency of endothelial-derived NO is believed to be the primary defect that links insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction. NO deficiency results from decreased synthesis and/or release, in combination with exaggerated consumption in tissues by high levels of reactive oxygen (ROS) and nitrogen (RNS) species, which are produced by cellular disturbances in glucose and lipid metabolism.”

And a vicious cycle ensues…

“Endothelial dysfunction contributes to impaired insulin action, by altering the transcapillary passage of insulin to target tissues. Reduced expansion of the capillary network, with attenuation of microcirculatory blood flow to metabolically active tissues, contributes to the impairment of insulin-stimulated glucose and lipid metabolism. This establishes a reverberating negative feedback cycle in which progressive endothelial dysfunction and disturbances in glucose and lipid metabolism develop secondary to the insulin resistance. Vascular damage, which results from lipid deposition and oxidative stress to the vessel wall, triggers an inflammatory reaction, and the release of chemoattractants and cytokines worsens the insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction.”

In their conclusion the authors state:

“…endothelial dysfunction and insulin resistance commonly occur together and can be detected early in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Insulin resistance can be inferred by the presence of a cluster of metabolic and cardiovascular abnormalities known collectively as the metabolic syndrome or by direct measurement of impaired insulin-stimulated glucose and lipid metabolism . Endothelial dysfunction can be documented by the demonstration of inadequate vasodilation and/or paradoxical vasoconstriction in coronary and peripheral arteries. Lack of endothelial-derived NO may provide the link between insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction.”

Plea to clinicians

Many resources are available for practitioners to apply a functional medicine model of objectively targeted treatment to resuscitate insulin receptor function and address lifestyle issues, especially diet, for the management of type 2 diabetes that minimizes the use of agents that lower glucose by increasing insulin, and therefore insulin resistance. It is my sincere wish that not only endocrinologists, but all clinicians, recall the mechanisms by which medications that promote insulin resistance increase cardiovascular disease, and act accordingly to protect their patients.

Insulin resistance is a huge topic, and there are numerous posts here pertaining to IR an conditions as diverse as Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer that can be viewed by using the search box. They include the earlier post on the correlation of IR with blood vessel damage leading to heart attack and stroke.

Nuts reduce inflammation and all-cause mortality

Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical NutritionNuts have been shown to confer multiple health benefits, so it’s disconcerting to see  some apparently popular paleo diet plans that forbid them. In the absence of a nut allergy it’s a shame to forgo the benefit of such a healthful and convenient food. The intent of the paleo diet is to reduce inflammation, so it’s worth considering a paper published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition offering evidence that nuts reduce inflammation. The authors note:

“Several large epidemiological studies have associated the frequency of nut consumption with reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), CVD, myocardial infarction, sudden death, and all causes of mortality, Type 2 diabetes (T2D) and other chronic disease.

Nuts are anti-inflammatory

Key inflammatory markers including CRP and IL-6 are reduced by nut consumption:

“Epidemiological and clinical studies suggest that some dietary factors, such as n–3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins, dietary fiber, L-arginine and magnesium may play an important role in modulating inflammation. The relationship observed between frequent nut consumption and the reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality and type 2 diabetes in some prospective studies could be explained by the fact that nuts are rich in all of these modulator nutrients. In fact, frequent nut consumption has been associated with lower concentrations of some peripheral inflammation markers in cross-sectional studies. Nut consumption has also been shown to decrease the plasma concentration of CRP, IL-6 and some endothelial markers in recent clinical trials.”

Nuts also benefit cholesterol and lipids

“In the last two decades, a considerable number of clinical trials have consistently demonstrated beneficial effects on blood lipids and lipoproteins, primarily a decrease in Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a classical CHD risk factor. This effect has been demonstrated consistently in different population groups, using different types of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecan, pistachio and macadamia nuts) and study designs. The favourable effects of tree nuts or tree nut oils on plasma lipid and lipoprotein profiles is a mechanism that appears to account for some of the cardio protective effects observed in the epidemiological studies.”

Nuts and olive oil are a great combination for cardiovascular risk:

“…in a cross-sectional study we evaluated the association between components of the Mediterranean diet and circulating markers of inflammation in a large cohort of asymptomatic subjects with high risk of cardiovascular disease. Subjects with the highest consumption of nuts and virgin olive oil showed the lowest concentrations of VCAM-1, ICAM-1, IL-6 and CRP; although this difference was statistically significant for ICAM-1 only in the case of nuts and for VCAM-1 in the case of olive oil.”

After reviewing several other studies documenting improvements in inflammation and endothelial function the authors conclude:

“In conclusion, nuts are complex food matrices containing diverse nutrients and other chemical constituents that may favourably influence human physiology. These sub- stances may inhibit the activation of the innate immune system, probably by decreasing the production of proinflammatory cytokines such as CRP, IL-6, TNF-α or IL-18, and increase the production of antiinflammatory cytokines such as adiponectin. This may improve the proinflammatory milieu, which in turn ameliorates endothelial dysfunction at the vascular level, and ultimately decreases the risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. The capacity of nuts to modulate inflammation may explain at least in part why frequent nut consumption is associated with reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in epidemiological studies.”

Nut consumption reduces total and cause-specific mortality

New England Journal of MedicineA paper published earlier this year in The New England Journal of Medicine add more extensive data presenting evidence that eating nuts reduces death from cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and ‘all causes’.

“Observational and intervention studies of nut consumption have also shown reductions in various mediators of chronic diseases, including oxidative stress, inflammation, visceral adiposity, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and endothelial dysfunction. In prospective cohort studies, increased nut intake has been associated with reduced risks of type 2 diabetes mellitus, the metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, hypertension, gallstone disease, diverticulitis, and death from inflammatory diseases.”

To extend the data to encompass the effects of eating nuts and all causes of death the authors:

“…examined the association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality in two large, independent cohort studies of nurses and other health professionals. These studies provide repeated measures of diet (including separate data on peanuts and tree nuts), extensive data on known or suspected confounding variables, 30 years of follow-up, and data on more than 27,000 deaths for analysis.”

Their data suggest that nuts are among the healthiest foods to eat:

“In two large prospective U.S. cohorts, we found a significant, dose-dependent inverse association between nut consumption and total mortality, after adjusting for potential confounders. As compared with participants who did not eat nuts, those who consumed nuts seven or more times per week had a 20% lower death rate. Inverse associations were observed for most major causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases. Results were similar for peanuts and tree nuts, and the inverse association persisted across all subgroups.”

Some nuts every day was the best:

“Our results are consistent with the findings in previous, smaller studies. The Adventist Health Study showed that, as compared with nut consumption less than once per week, consumption five or more times per week was associated with reduced total mortality among whites, blacks, and elderly persons, with hazard ratios ranging from 0.56 to 0.82. Similarly, a study of a U.K. cohort, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, the Netherlands Cohort Study, and an earlier analysis of the NHS all showed significant inverse associations between nut intake and total mortality. Finally, in a recent secondary analysis within the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) trial, a hazard ratio for death of 0.61 (95% CI, 0.45 to 0.83) was found for consumption of more than three servings of nuts per week, as compared with no nut consumption.”

Bottom line: ‘paleo’ and ‘autoimmune’ paleo diets can be fine healing diets for many, but like everything else should not be applied dogmatically or in a ‘rubber stamp’, ‘one-size-fits-all’ manner. In the absence of allergy, the evidence supports the consumption of nuts as wholesome foods with anti-inflammatory and metabolic benefits, exactly what paleo diets intend to accomplish.

Erectile Dysfunction is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and mortality

PLoS MedicineMore evidence that erectile dysfunction is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease is presented in a study just published in PLoS Medicine (Public Library of Science). This should come as no surprise considering that health of vascular  endothelium is one of the elements necessary to ensure blood delivery to the ‘periphery’. The authors added to literature on this topic by examining the degree of erectile dysfunction in relation to cardiovascular risk:

Erectile dysfunction is an emerging risk marker for future cardiovascular disease (CVD) events; however, evidence on dose response and specific CVD outcomes is limited. This study investigates the relationship between severity of erectile dysfunction and specific CVD outcomes.”

To do so they examined hospitalisation and death data for 95,038 men 45 years and older, analyzing the relationship of reported severity of erectile dysfunction to all-cause mortality and hospitalisation for cardiovascular disease. Men with and without previous CVD were, adjusting for age, smoking, alcohol consumption, marital status, income, education, physical activity, body mass index, diabetes, and treatment for hypertension and/or high cholesterol. The data describe a strong association:

“There were 7,855 incident admissions for CVD and 2,304 deaths during follow-up (mean time from recruitment, 2.2 y for CVD admission and 2.8 y for mortality). Risks of CVD and death increased steadily with severity of erectile dysfunction. Among men without previous CVD, those with severe versus no erectile dysfunction had significantly increased risks of ischaemic heart disease (adjusted relative risk [RR] = 1.60), heart failure (8.00), peripheral vascular disease (1.92), “other” CVD (1.26), all CVD combined (1.35), and all-cause mortality (1.93). For men with previous CVD, corresponding RRs (95% CI) were 1.70, 4.40, 2.46, 1.40, 1.64, and 2.37, respectively. Among men without previous CVD, RRs of more specific CVDs increased significantly with severe versus no erectile dysfunction, including acute myocardial infarction (1.66), atrioventricular and left bundle branch block (6.62), and (peripheral) atherosclerosis (2.47), with no significant difference in risk for conditions such as primary hypertension (0.61) and intracerebral haemorrhage (0.78).”

Clinicians’ notes: (1) Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (Viagra®, etc.) do not remediate the underlying causes. (2) Don’t forget to check ADMA (asymmetric dimethyl arginine levels for endothelial nitric oxide capacity. As authors conclude, erectile dysfunction is an alert to examine all the risk factors for CVD:

These findings give support for CVD risk assessment in men with erectile dysfunction who have not already undergone assessment…The findings of this study highlight the need to consider erectile dysfunction in relation to the risk of a wide range of CVDs that extends beyond ischaemic heart disease and stroke and includes conditions such as heart failure and conduction disorders. They also provide evidence that CVD risk is elevated across a spectrum of severity of erectile dysfunction and that men with mild or moderate erectile dysfunction should be considered at increased risk, in addition to those with severe disease.”

Data shows high intake of omega-6 fatty acids is not advised for cardiovascular health

BMJ 9 Feb 2013Research recently published in BMJ (British Medical Journal) examines accumulated data to reveal that advice given by the American Heart Association to increase consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, particularly linolenic acid found in corn, sunflower, safflower, and soybean oils, is misguided for cardiovascular health. The author of an accompanying editorial notes that linolenic acid…

“…is the most prevalent PUFA and omega 6 PUFA in most Western diets. As a result of the effects of linoleic acid on cholesterol concentrations, lowering intake of saturated fat and increasing that of PUFAs has been a cornerstone of dietary advice, with the aim of decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).”


“The American Heart Association recently repeated advice to maintain, and even to increase, intake of omega 6 PUFAs. This advice has caused some controversy, because evidence that linoleic acid lowers the risk of CVD is limited—most trials that claimed to investigate the effect of exchanging saturated fat for linoleic acid involved multiple dietary changes or multiple interventions (or both).”

As it turns out…

The impact on CVD risk or mortality of replacing saturated fat with linoleic acid without changes in other fatty acids has rarely been investigated, and no large randomised controlled trial has recently explored this important question.”

Therefore, in their paper the authors set out…

“…to evaluate the effectiveness of replacing dietary saturated fat with omega 6 linoleic acid, for the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death.”

To do so they recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study, a randomized controlled trial conducted in 1966-73 using 458 men aged 30-59 years with a recent coronary event (myocardial infarction, acute coronary insufficiency, or angina) as study subjects. In fact, death from cardiovascular disease specifically was not even reported in the original paper describing the Sydney Diet Heart Study. This updated meta-analysis included previously missing data. As described in the editorial:

“Participants were randomised to a diet rich in linoleic acid or continuation of their habitual diet. Both groups were treated the same in other respects and received the same advice. Baseline dietary intake data showed an average linoleic acid intake of about 6% of energy and an average saturated fatty acid intake of about 16% of energy. The linoleic acid group was instructed to increase PUFA intake to 15% of energy and to reduce saturated fatty acid intake to less than 10% of energy; participants were provided with liquid safflower oil and a safflower oil based margarine to be used instead of animal fats for cooking, baking, and spreading. Safflower oil is 75% linoleic acid and does not provide other PUFAs. Follow-up was a median of 39 months. Total cholesterol was lowered by an average of 13% in the linoleic acid group.”

But despite the reduction in cholesterol the outcome for cardiovascular mortality worsened significantly with the high omega-6 fatty acid diet:

“The intervention group (n=221) had higher rates of death than controls (n=237) (all cause 17.6% v 11.8%, hazard ratio 1.62; cardiovascular disease 17.2% v 11.0%, 1.70; coronary heart disease 16.3% v 10.1%, 1.74. Inclusion of these recovered data in an updated meta-analysis of linoleic acid intervention trials showed non-significant trends toward increased risks of death from coronary heart disease (hazard ratio 1.33 and cardiovascular disease 1.27.”

The editorialist for BMJ brings these findings in to focus:

“The authors then used the new data generated from the Sydney Diet Heart Study to update an earlier meta-analysis. Two other linoleic acid intervention trials that reported CHD and CVD mortality were included. This updated analysis reported an increased risk of death from CHD and CVD, although the results were not significant. These findings argue against the “saturated fat bad, omega 6 PUFA good” dogma and suggest that the American Heart Association advisory that includes the statement “higher [than 10% of energy] intakes [of omega-6 PUFAs] appear to be safe and may be even more beneficial” may be misguided. The more cautious UK dietary recommendations on fat and fatty acids, which include the statement, “There is reason to be cautious about high intakes of omega 6 PUFAs,” seem fully justified in the light of the current study’s findings.”

The authors of the research study themselves conclude:

“Advice to substitute polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats is a key component of worldwide dietary guidelines for coronary heart disease risk reduction. However, clinical benefits of the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid, omega 6 linoleic acid, have not been established. In this cohort, substituting dietary linoleic acid in place of saturated fats increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. An updated meta-analysis of linoleic acid intervention trials showed no evidence of cardiovascular benefit. These findings could have important implications for worldwide dietary advice to substitute omega 6 linoleic acid, or polyunsaturated fats in general, for saturated fats.”

Bottom line: the data offer no evidence for clinicians to advise increasing the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids (such as linolenic acid in corn, sunflower, safflower, and soybean oils) to saturated fats for cardiovascular health.

Magnesium reduces death from cardiovascular disease

Additional evidence that magnesium is important in reducing mortality from cardiovascular disease is offered in a study recently published in the journal Atherosclerosis. The authors’ intent was to…

“…investigate the relationship between dietary magnesium intake and mortality from cardiovascular disease in a population-based sample of Asian adults.”

They examined 58,615 healthy Japanese aged 40–79 years for dietary magnesium intake by a validated food frequency questionnaire administered over two years with a median 14.7-year follow-up. During that time they documented 2690 deaths from cardiovascular disease (1227 deaths from strokes and 557 deaths from coronary heart disease). What did the data reveal for the importance of magnesium?

Dietary magnesium intake was inversely associated with mortality from hemorrhagic stroke in men and with mortality from total and ischemic strokes, coronary heart disease, heart failure and total cardiovascular disease in women. The multivariable hazard ratio (95% CI) for the highest vs. the lowest quintiles of magnesium intake after adjustment for cardiovascular risk factor and sodium intake was 0.49 (0.26–0.95), P for trend=0.074 for hemorrhagic stroke in men, 0.68 (0.48–0.96), P for trend=0.010 for total stroke, 0.47 (0.29–0.77), P for trend<0.001 for ischemic stroke, 0.50 (0.30–0.84), P for trend=0.005 for coronary heart disease, 0.50 (0.28–0.87), P for trend=0.002 for heart failure and 0.64 (0.51–0.80), P for trend<0.001 for total cardiovascular disease in women.”

In other words, the overall risk for stroke and heart disease was reduced by approximately half. Bear in mind that calcium opposes magnesium; this is the likely mechanism by which calcium supplementation can promote cardiovascular inflammation. The authors state:

“In conclusion, dietary magnesium intake was associated with reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease in Japanese, especially for women.”

You may wish to read earlier posts on magnesium, calcium and cardiovascular disease by entering these terms as search items above.

The advantages of intermittent versus continuous calorie restriction for long term weight loss

There is an accumulation of fascinating scientific evidence that intermittent calorie restriction (ICR) offers a number of advantages over continuous calorie restriction (CCR) for successful long term weight loss and the ‘turning on’ of genes that favor longevity. Consider a study published recently in the International Journal of Obesity in which the investigators compared ICR and CCR for weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers in overweight women. The authors state:

“Excess weight and weight gain during adult life increases the risk of several diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), dementia, certain forms of cancer including breast cancer, and can contribute to premature death. Observational and some randomised trials indicate that modest weight reduction (>5% of body weight) reduces the incidence and progression of many of these diseases. Although weight control is beneficial, the problem of poor compliance in weight loss programmes is well known.”


“Even where reduced weights are maintained, many of the benefits achieved during weight loss, including improvements in insulin sensitivity, may be attenuated due to non-compliance or adaptation. Sustainable and effective energy restriction strategies are thus required.”

In other words, a method that can be comfortable enough to be accepted into daily life for the long that also avoids loss of improvements due to adaption is required.

“One possible approach may be intermittent energy restriction (IER), with short spells of severe restriction between longer periods of habitual energy intake. For some subjects such an approach may be easier to follow than a daily or continuous energy restriction (CER) and may overcome adaption to the weight reduced state by repeated rapid improvements in metabolic control with each spell of energy restriction.”

So the authors set out to…

“…compare the feasibility and effectiveness of IER with CER for weight loss, insulin sensitivity and other metabolic disease risk markers…This is the largest randomised comparison of an isocalorific intermittent vs. continuous energy restriction to date in free living humans..”

They designed a randomised comparison of a 25% energy restriction as IER (~2266 kJ/day which equals 541 calories per day for 2 days/week) or CER (~6276 kJ/day equaling 1499 calories each day for 7 days/week) in 107 overweight or obese premenopausal women for a 6 month study period. They measured an extensive list of biomarkers at baseline and after 1, 3 and 6 months: weight, anthropometry (size, weight and proportions), biomarkers for breast cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dementia risk; insulin resistance (HOMA), oxidative stress markers, leptin, adiponectin, IGF-1 and IGF binding proteins 1 and 2, androgens, prolactin, inflammatory markers (high sensitivity C-reactive protein and sialic acid), lipids, blood pressure and brain derived neurotrophic factor. What did the data show?

“Last observation carried forward analysis showed IER and CER are equally effective for weight loss, mean weight change for IER was −6.4 kg vs. −5.6 kg for CER. Both groups experienced comparable reductions in leptin, free androgen index, high sensitivity C-reactive protein, total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and increases in sex hormone binding globulin, IGF binding proteins 1 and 2. Reductions in fasting insulin and insulin resistance were modest in both groups, but greater with IER than CER; difference between groups for fasting insulin −1.2 μU/ml, and insulin resistance −1.2 μU/mmol/L.”

Regarding concerns about tolerance…

“A recent blinded trial of a 2 day VLCD [very low calorie diet] (1311 kJ/day [313 calories per day!]) reported no adverse effects on cognition, energy levels, sleep or mood, suggesting symptoms are expected with VLCD and therefore experienced and could potentially be overcome with appropriate counselling. Importantly IER did not lead to overeating on non-VLCD days.”

The authors briefly summarize the results of their comparison of IER and CER by concluding:

IER is as effective as CER in regards to weight loss, insulin sensitivity and other health biomarkers and may be offered as an alternative equivalent to CER for weight loss and reducing disease risk.”

That’s not all though. The authors additionally note an extremely interesting observation with profound implications and potential for benefit regarding additional benefits of an intermittent very low calorie method:

“Recent reviews speculate that IER may be associated with greater disease prevention than CER due to increased cellular stress resistance, in particular increased resistance to oxidative stress. This is thought to be mediated by ‘hormesis’ whereby the moderate stress of energy restriction increases the production of cytoprotective, restorative proteins, antioxidant enzymes and protein chaperones. Alternate day fasting has been linked to increased SIRT-1 gene expression in muscle, and to greater neuronal resistance to injury compared to CER in C57BL/6 mice. The tendency for greater improvements in oxidative stress markers in our IER than in the CER group may support these assertions. Declines in long term protein oxidation product aggregates suggest IER as a possible activator of catabolism and autophagy.”

In other words, intermittent calorie restriction can be as effective as continuous calorie restriction for weight loss, but have the added advantage of ‘turning on’ genes beneficial for health and longevity and preventing adaptation that would result in regaining weight.

Other investigators also have compared intermittent with continuous calorie (daily) calorie restriction as in a study published recently in the journal Obesity Reviews. The authors set out to…

“…evaluate and compare the effects of daily CR versus intermittent CR on weight loss, fat mass loss, lean mass retention and visceral fat mass reduction, in overweight and obese adults.”

They undertook a review of studies that were randomized control trials, had a primary endpoint of weight loss and/or body composition changes, used daily CR or intermittent CR as the primary focus of the intervention; had a study duration of 4–24 weeks, and involved adult populations who were overweight or obese subjects but not diabetic. These included 11 daily continuous calorie restriction trials and five intermittent CR trials published between 2000 and 2010, along with two unpublished trials of intermittent CR from their own lab. What did all these studies add up to?

“Results reveal similar weight loss and fat mass loss with 3 to 12 weeks’ intermittent CR (4–8%, 11–16%, respectively) and daily CR (5–8%, 10–20%, respectively). In contrast, less fat free mass was lost in response to intermittent CR versus daily CR.”

This is a significant advantage of ICR over CCR (continuous = daily calorie restriction). The authors conclude by stating:

“In sum, intermittent CR and daily CR diets appear to be equally as effective in decreasing body weight, fat mass, and potentially, visceral fat mass. However, intermittent restriction regimens may be superior to daily restriction regimens in that they help conserve lean mass at the expense of fat mass. These findings add to the growing body of evidence showing that intermittent CR may be implemented as another viable option for weight loss in overweight and obese populations.”

Numerous other studies have examined the distinctive benefits of intermittent calorie restriction. A paper published recently in the journal Oncogene investigates the positive effects of brief ICR compared to CCR for cancer patients. The authors state:

“The dietary recommendation for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, as described by the American Cancer Society, is to increase calorie and protein intake. Yet, in simple organisms, mice, and humans, fasting—no calorie intake—induces a wide range of changes associated with cellular protection, which would be difficult to achieve even with a cocktail of potent drugs. In mammals, the protective effect of fasting is mediated, in part, by an over 50% reduction in glucose and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-I) levels.”

They point out that cancer cells are unable to respond to the positive stimuli of calorie restriction:

“Because proto-oncogenes function as key negative regulators of the protective changes induced by fasting, cells expressing oncogenes, and therefore the great majority of cancer cells, should not respond to the protective signals generated by fasting, promoting the differential protection (differential stress resistance) of normal and cancer cells.”


“Preliminary reports indicate that fasting for up to 5 days followed by a normal diet, may also protect patients against chemotherapy without causing chronic weight loss. By contrast, the long-term 20 to 40% restriction in calorie intake (dietary restriction, DR), whose effects on cancer progression have been studied extensively for decades, requires weeks–months to be effective, causes much more modest changes in glucose and/or IGF-I levels, and promotes chronic weight loss in both rodents and humans.”

They go on to review studies on fasting, cellular protection and chemotherapy resistance, and futher compare them to those on continuous calorie restriction and cancer treatment. The authors conclude:

“Although additional pre-clinical and clinical studies are necessary, fasting has the potential to be translated into effective clinical interventions for the protection of patients and the improvement of therapeutic index.”

A study published in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology offers evidence that intermittent calorie restriction activates genes that help in the recovery from heart damage. The authors state:

Chronic heart failure (CHF) is the major cause of death in the developed countries. Calorie restriction is known to improve the recovery in these patients; however, the exact mechanism behind this protective effect is unknown. Here we demonstrate the activation of cell survival PI3kinase/Akt and VEGF pathway as the mechanism behind the protection induced by intermittent fasting in a rat model of established chronic myocardial ischemia (MI).

Two weeks after myocardial ischemia was induced in their study animals, they were randomly assigned to a normal feeding group (MI-NF) and an alternate-day feeding group (MI-IF). After 6 weeks the authors evaluated the effect of intermittent fasting on cellular and ventricular remodeling and long-term survival. The results were truly striking:

Compared with the normally fed group, intermittent fasting markedly improved the survival of rats with CHF (88.5% versus 23% survival). The heart weight body weight ratio was significantly less in the MI-IF group compared to the MI-NF group (3.4 ± 0.17 versus 3.9 ± 0.18. Isolated heart perfusion studies exhibited well preserved cardiac functions in the MI-IF group compared to the MI-NF group. Molecular studies revealed the upregulation of angiogenic factors such asHIF-1-α (3010 ± 350% versus 650 ± 151%), BDNF (523 ± 32% versus 110 ± 12%), and VEGF (450 ± 21% versus 170 ± 30%) in the fasted hearts. Immunohistochemical studies confirmed increased capillary density in the border area of the ischemic myocardium and synthesis VEGF by cardiomyocytes. Moreover fasting also upregulated the expression of other anti-apoptotic factors such as Akt and Bcl-2 and reduced the TUNEL positive apoptotic nuclei in the border zone.”

This is a dramatic indication that intermittent calorie restriction can be used to protect and repair heart tissue. The authors conclude:

Chronic intermittent fasting markedly improves the long-term survival after CHF by activation through its pro-angiogenic, anti-apoptotic and anti-remodeling effects.”

Another fascinating study published recently in the journal Cancer Prevention Research demonstrates that intermittent calorie restriction is clearly superior to both continuous calorie restriction and an unrestricted diet for breast cancer prevention. Specifically, the authors studied…

“The effect of chronic (CCR) and intermittent (ICR) caloric restriction on serum adiponectin and leptin levels…in relation to mammary tumorigenesis.”

Their subjects were assigned to ad libitum fed, ICR (3-week 50% caloric restriction followed by 3-wks 100% AL consumption), and CCR groups.

Mammary tumor incidence was 71.0%, 35.4%, and 9.1% for AL, CCR, and ICR mice, respectively. Serum adiponectin levels were similar among groups with no impact of either CCR or ICR. Serum leptin level rose in AL mice with increasing age but was significantly reduced by long-term CCR and ICR. The ICR protocol was also associated with an elevated adiponectin/leptin ratio. In addition, ICR-restricted mice had increased mammary tissue AdipoR1 expression and decreased leptin and ObRb expression compared with AL mice. Mammary fat pads from tumor-free ICR-mice had higher adiponectin expression than AL and CCR mice whereas all tumor-bearing mice had weak adiponectin signal in mammary fat pad.”

This amounts to an impressive ‘turning on’ of genes that protect against breast cancer for ICR. In conclusion…

“…we did find that reduced serum leptin and elevated adiponectin/leptin ratio were associated with the protective effect of intermittent calorie restriction.”

A paper published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer demonstrates that ICR offers a greater protective effect than CCR for prostate cancer. The authors state:

“Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in men. Whereas chronic calorie restriction (CCR) delays prostate tumorigenesis in some rodent models, the impact of intermittent caloric restriction (ICR) has not been determined. Here, transgenic adenocarcinoma of the mouse prostate (TRAMP) mice were used to compare how ICR and CCR affected prostate cancer development.”

Their animal models for prostate cancer were assigned to ad libitum (AL), ICR, and CCR groups. There were distinctive differences according to the manner of calorie restriction that dramatically favored the ICR over both the AL and CCR cohorts:

“ICR mice were older at tumor detection than AL and CCR mice. There was no difference for age of tumor detection between AL and CCR mice. Similar results were found for survival. Serum leptin, adiponectin, insulin, and IGF-I were all significantly different among the groups.”

Not only did the subjects on CCR live longer with healthier biomarkers than the ones on either the free diet or CCR, there was no difference between the AL and CCR groups for age of tumor detection or survival. The implication is exciting: the benefits were due not to the weight loss component but to the way in which ICR affects gene expression. The authors conclude:

“These results indicate that the way in which calories are restricted impacts both time to tumor detection and survival in TRAMP mice, with ICR providing greater protective effect compared to CCR.”

A paper published in the The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry also offers evidence that intermittent calorie restriction protects heart tissue:

“It has been reported that dietary energy restriction, including intermittent fasting (IF), can protect heart and brain cells against injury and improve functional outcome in animal models of myocardial infarction (MI) and stroke. Here we report that IF improves glycemic control and protects the myocardium against ischemia-induced cell damage and inflammation in rats.”

The authors showed by echocardiographic analysis of heart structur and function that intermittent fasting attenuates the disease related increase in heart thickness, end systolic and diastolic volumes, and ejection fraction. Additionally…

“The size of the ischemic infarct 24 h following permanent ligation of a coronary artery was significantly smaller, and markers of inflammation (infiltration of leukocytes in the area at risk and plasma IL-6 levels) were less, in IF rats compared to rats on the control diet. IF resulted in increased levels of circulating adiponectin prior to and after MI.”

There is now a large body of evidence showing that ICR increases the protective hormone adiponectin much more than CCR. The authors conclude:

“Because recent studies have shown that adiponectin can protect the heart against ischemic injury, our findings suggest a potential role for adiponectin as a mediator of the cardioprotective effect of IF.”

A paper published in the journal Ageing Research Reviews discusses how IFR and CCR can protect the brain from accelerated neurodegeneration associated with aging. The authors note:

“The vulnerability of the nervous system to advancing age is all too often manifest in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. In this review article we describe evidence suggesting that two dietary interventions, caloric restriction (CR) and intermittent fasting (IF), can prolong the health-span of the nervous system by impinging upon fundamental metabolic and cellular signaling pathways that regulate life-span.”

As we’ve seen regarding cardioprotection and tumorigenesis…

“CR and IF affect energy and oxygen radical metabolism, and cellular stress response systems, in ways that protect neurons against genetic and environmental factors to which they would otherwise succumb during aging. There are multiple interactive pathways and molecular mechanisms by which CR and IF benefit neurons including those involving insulin-like signaling, FoxO transcription factors, sirtuins and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors. These pathways stimulate the production of protein chaperones, neurotrophic factors and antioxidant enzymes, all of which help cells cope with stress and resist disease.”

These studies comprise the first post that illustrates the scientific basis for the Lapis Light Weight Loss & Gene Modulation Program that customizes intermittent calorie restriction according to the individual’s weight management and other health needs. Subsequent posts will offer additional scientific evidence important for other aspects of the program.

Women can reduce sudden cardiac death with basic lifestyle practices

It doesn’t hurt to have a reminder of the power of lifestyle factors to reduce chronic disease such as this study just published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) in which the authors correlated several of them to the risk of sudden cardiac death. As they note, sudden death is often the first sign of heart disease:

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) accounts for more than half of all cardiac deaths; the majority of SCD events occur as the first manifestation of heart disease, especially among women. Primary preventive strategies are needed to reduce SCD incidence.”

Sudden cardiac death means dying within an hour of the onset of symptoms. For their purpose they defined a “healthy lifestyle” as not smoking, having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25, exercising for 30 minutes per day or longer, and to exceed 40% of the alternate Mediterranean diet score (defined as a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole versus refined grains, fish and moderate alcohol. What did the data show?

All 4 low-risk lifestyle factors were significantly and independently associated with a lower risk of SCD. The absolute risks of SCD were 22 cases/100 000 person-years among women with 0 low-risk factors, 17 cases/100 000 person-years with 1 low-risk factor, 18 cases/100 000 person-years with 2 low-risk factors, 13 cases/100 000 person-years with 3 low-risk factors, and 16 cases/100 000 person-years with 4 low-risk factors. Compared with women with 0 low-risk factors, the multivariable relative risk of SCD was 0.54 for women with 1 low-risk factor, 0.41 for 2 low-risk factors, 0.33 for 3 low-risk factors, and 0.08 for 4 low-risk factors. The proportion of SCD attributable to smoking, inactivity, overweight, and poor diet was 81%. Among women without clinically diagnosed coronary heart disease, the percentage of population attributable risk was 79%.”

Considering that the benefits of diet and exercise can be further enhanced by customization according to functional metabolic-genomic assessment needs and more effective time-saving interval training respectively, it is likely that even these significant percentages can be further improved. The authors conclude:

“Adherence to a low-risk lifestyle is associated with a low risk of SCD.”

Borderline anemia increases risk of death in coronary disease

Earlier posts have offered evidence for the need to take even slightly low levels of hemoglobin very seriously. Now a research article just published in PLoS Medicine (Public Library of Science) reports that borderline anemia makes coronary artery disease significantly more lethal. The authors note:

“Coronary artery disease is the main cause of death in high-income countries and the second most common cause of death in middle- and low-income countries…Recent studies have suggested that low hemoglobin may be associated with mortality in patients with coronary artery disease. Therefore, using blood hemoglobin level as a prognostic biomarker for patients with stable coronary artery disease may be of potential benefit especially as measurement of hemoglobin is almost universal in such patients and there are available interventions that effectively increase hemoglobin concentration.”

They examined the data for 20,131 with stable angina and another 14,171 who had survived a first heart attack for an average of 3.2 years, correlating outcomes with hemoglobin values. Their findings are very important for clinicians and patients, who should inquire about their hemoglobin values, to bear in mind:

“For men with MI, the threshold value was 13.5 g/dl; the 29.5% of patients with haemoglobin below this threshold had an associated hazard ratio for mortality of 2.00 compared to those with haemoglobin values in the lowest risk range. Women tended to have lower threshold haemoglobin values (e.g, for MI 12.8 g/dl) but the shape and strength of association did not differ between the genders, nor between patients with angina and MI.”

In other words, hemoglobin below 13.5 g/dl in men and slightly lower in women doubled the risk of death. The authors conclude:

“There is an association between low haemoglobin concentration and increased mortality. A large proportion of patients with coronary disease have haemoglobin concentrations below the thresholds of risk defined here.

Those who have had a heart attack should never take a NSAID

Many people who have suffered a heart attack may be advised to take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID, such as ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Celebrex and others*) for a variety of reasons, but a nation-wide cohort study just published in the journal Circulation reports that taking an NSAID can significantly increase their risk of death and they should never do so even for short periods. The authors set the stage for their study:

“Despite the fact that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are contraindicated among patients with established cardiovascular disease, many receive NSAID treatment for a short period of time. However, little is known about the association between NSAID treatment duration and risk of cardiovascular disease. We therefore studied the duration of NSAID treatment and cardiovascular risk in a nationwide cohort of patients with prior myocardial infarction (MI).”

They examined data for all Danish patients ≥30 years of age who had a first-time MI during 1997 to 2006 along with their subsequent NSAID use for risk of death and recurrent heart according to duration of NSAID treatment. What did the data show?

“Of the 83,677 patients included, 42.3% received NSAIDs during follow-up. There were 35 257 deaths/recurrent MIs. Overall, NSAID treatment was significantly associated with an increased risk of death/recurrent MI at the beginning of the treatment, and the risk persisted throughout the treatment course. Analyses of individual NSAIDs showed that the traditional NSAID diclofenac [Voltaren] was associated with the highest risk.”

This study is an alarm that should be clearly heard by clinicians and any heart attack survivors who self-medicate with over-the-counter preparations. Practitioners should also not fail to consider a corollary implication: what about patients who, though they have not yet suffered an MI, have significant heart attack risk factors such as elevated Lp-PLA2? Fortunately there are alternatives to NSAID use for chronic inflammation. The authors conclude:

Even short-term treatment with most NSAIDs was associated with increased risk of death and recurrent MI in patients with prior MI. Neither short- nor long-term treatment with NSAIDs is advised in this population, and any NSAID use should be limited from a cardiovascular safety point of view.”

*including Nuprin, Naproxen, Relafen, Tolectin, etc.

The highest amounts of calcium intake increase the risk of fracture

Patients are often surprised to learn that osteoporosis is not a calcium deficiency disorder but rather a failure to maintain the microarchitecture of the bone of which the protein matrix is a critical component. Moreover, earlier posts on magnesium and calcium have document the pro-inflammatory potential of calcium supplementation. Now fascinating research just published in the British Medical Journal offers evidence that calcium above the lowest quintile does not improve the risk of fracture of any type, while the highest levels actually increase the risk of fracture. The authors set out to…

“……investigate associations between long term dietary intake of calcium and risk of fracture of any type, hip fractures, and osteoporosis.”

They note that confusion regarding the issue of calcium requirements has been…

“…reflected by the wide range of daily calcium recommendations for individuals older than 50 years: at present 700 mg in the UK, 800 mg in Scandinavia, 1200 mg in the United States, and 1300 mg in Australia and New Zealand.”

The authors investigated 61,433 women born between 1914 and 1948 for 19 years for correlations between dietary intake of calcium and fractures of any type, hip fractures, and osteoporosis. They took into consideration vitamin D consumption, hormonal status, and other pertinent biological and lifestyle factors including physical activity. Perhaps not surprisingly in light of other evidence that has emerged recently about calcium, their data challenges the conventional wisdom:

“These findings show an association between a low habitual dietary calcium intake (lowest quintile) and an increased risk of fractures and of osteoporosis. Above this base level, we observed only minor differences in risk. The rate of hip fracture was even increased in those with high dietary calcium intakes.

In others, amounts higher than the lowest level of calcium intake adequate to avoid gross insufficiency and compromised bone micoarchitecture there were not only no significant benefits, the highest levels of intake increased fracture risk. The authors comment:

“The present results may reflect a situation when a moderate intake of calcium* combined with adequate intake of other micronutrients is sufficient to meet the structural and functional demands of the skeleton. High levels of intake did not further decrease the rate of fracture, and might even increase the rate of hip fractures…Moreover, use of supplemental calcium has been associated with higher rates of hip fracture both in a cohort study and in randomised controlled trials…Furthermore, high calcium doses slow bone turnover and also reduce the number of active bone remodelling sites. This situation can lead to a delay of bone repair caused by fatigue, and thus increase the risk of fractures independent of bone mineral density.”

*Their data indicate that a total dietary intake of 700 mg of calcium per day is sufficient to prevent fracture and osteoporosis. The authors conclude:

“Incremental increases in calcium intake above the level corresponding to the first quintile of our female population were not associated with a further reduction of osteoporotic fracture rate.”

Considering that chronic inflammation can be a primary factor in causing loss of the protein ‘scaffolding’ of bone responsible for strength, resilience, and the matrix to which minerals attach, these findings invoke recollection of the recent evidence that calcium supplementation can increase the inflammation of  cardiovascular disease. In case you missed it, a recent research paper published in the British Medical Journal follows up on earlier reports of this association. The authors’ intent was…

“To investigate the effects of personal calcium supplement use on cardiovascular risk in the Women’s Health Initiative Calcium/Vitamin D Supplementation Study (WHI CaD Study), using the WHI dataset, and to update the recent meta-analysis of calcium supplements and cardiovascular risk.”

The examined the data from a randomised, placebo controlled trial of calcium alone or with vitamin D in 36,282 postmenopausal women over seven years for myocardial infarction, coronary revascularisation, death from coronary heart disease, and stroke. The data told an interesting story:

“In the WHI CaD Study there was an interaction between personal use of calcium supplements and allocated calcium and vitamin D for cardiovascular events…Calcium or calcium and vitamin D increased the risk of myocardial infarction (relative risk 1.24 (1.07 to 1.45), P=0.004) and the composite of myocardial infarction or stroke (1.15 (1.03 to 1.27), P=0.009).”

Clinicians and patients need to appreciate that inflammation, a fundamental causal factor in both osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, can be made worse by calcium supplements. The authors conclude:

Calcium supplements with or without vitamin D modestly increase the risk of cardiovascular events, especially myocardial infarction, a finding obscured in the WHI CaD Study by the widespread use of personal calcium supplements. A reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in osteoporosis management is warranted.