No safe level of drinking alcohol


That is the conclusion of a comprehensive study published in The Lancet. The Global Burden of Disease study analysed the prevalence of alcohol use from 694 data sources and related health outcomes from 592 studies between 1990 and 2016.

In 2016, nearly 3 million deaths were attributed to alcohol use globally, making it the seventh leading cause of death and disability. In the 15 to 49 age group, alcohol use was the leading cause of death, accounting for 12.2 per cent of deaths in men and 3.8 per cent deaths in women.

Among people who are 50 and older, cancer was a leading cause of alcohol-related death, accounting for 27 per cent of deaths in women and nearly 19 per cent of deaths in men.

Compared to abstainers, people who had one alcoholic beverage per day had 0.5 per cent higher risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health problems. The risk was 7 per cent higher for those who had two drinks per day and 37 per cent higher for those who drank five drinks per day.

Any benefit alcohol may provide against heart diseases is outweighed by other health problems it can cause, especially cancer.

Breastfeeding reduces stroke risk

According to a US study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, women who breastfeed have a lower risk of stroke later in life.

The researchers analysed data on 80,191 post-menopausal women, with an average age of 63.7, who were recruited between 1993 and 1998 and followed for 12.6 years. All the women had given birth to one or more children.

Among them 58 per cent reported that they did not breastfeed, 51 per cent breastfed for one to six months, 22 per cent for seven to 12 months, and 27 per cent for 13 or more.

Compared to women who did not breastfeed, stroke risk was 23 per cent lower in women who breastfed, even after accounting for risk factors such as age and family history and other lifestyle factors.

There was a greater risk reduction with longer breastfeeding. Stroke risk was 19 per cent lower for women who breastfed for one to six months, whereas it was 26 per cent lower for those who breastfed 13 months or more.

“If you are pregnant, please consider breastfeeding as part of your birthing plan and continue to breastfeed for at least six months to receive the optimal benefits for you and your infant,” said the lead author.

Stroke doubles dementia risk

People who have suffered a stroke are about twice as likely to develop dementia, according to a British study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia.

The researchers analysed 36 studies including 1.9 million people who had a history of stroke. Another 12 studies involving 1.3 million people were examined to see whether participants suffered a stroke over the study period.

People who had a history of stroke had a 70 per cent increased risk for dementia. The risk was more than double for those who suffered a recent stroke.

The link persisted even after accounting for other dementia-risk factors such as blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and the dementia risk appeared to be higher for men following stroke.

“Given how common both stroke and dementia are, this strong link is an important finding. Improvements in stroke prevention and post-stroke care may therefore play a key role in dementia prevention,” said the lead researcher.

Can daily aspirin prevent heart attacks?

Taking low-dose aspirin has been shown to prevent a second heart attack or stroke in patients who have already suffered one. But, according to a US study published in The Lancet, aspirin did not help prevent first heart attack or stroke in people at a moderate risk for a cardiovascular event.

The study included 12,546 men and women, average age 63.9 years, without a history of a cardiovascular event, but at a moderate risk for one because they had several cardiovascular risk factors, including smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The participants were randomly assigned to receive aspirin (100mg daily) or a placebo. During a median follow-up of 60 months, the rate of cardiovascular events were similar in both groups—4.29 per cent in the aspirin group and 4.48 per cent in the placebo group. However, more patients in the aspirin group had gastrointestinal bleeding compared to the placebo group.

Another study from Oxford University published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analysed the benefits of aspirin in patients with diabetes who have a higher risk of cardiovascular events. For the study, 15,480 adults with Type 1 or 2 diabetes, but with no history of heart problems, were randomly assigned to take either aspirin or a placebo daily.

After seven and a half years, while there were fewer heart events among aspirin users (8.5 per cent vs 9.6 per cent), there were more cases of serious bleeding as well (4.1 per cent vs 3.2 per cent), negating the benefits.

Did You Know

More than a quarter of adults globally (27.5 per cent) do not meet the WHO’s physical activity guidelines of 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, putting them at an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, several types of cancer, dementia, diabetes, and mental health conditions.

The Lancet Global Health

Weight-loss drug that is safe for the heart

For the first time, a weight loss drug has been found to be effective in helping people lose weight without increasing the risk for heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease. It was found in a clinical trial that assessed the cardiovascular safety of the weight-loss drug lorcaserin. The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Many previous weight-loss drugs had to be pulled from the market due to their cardiovascular side-effects.

But, lorcaserin did not increase risk of major cardiovascular events.

For the trial, 12,000 overweight or obese patients, at risk for a cardiovascular event, were randomly assigned to receive either lorcaserin or a placebo.

During a median follow up of more than three years, there was no statistical difference in the rate of a major adverse cardiovascular event between patients who received lorcaserin (6.1 per cent) and those who received placebo (6.2 per cent). Lorcaserin helped patients lose 4.2kg on average in one year, compared to 1.4 kg for placebo. After one year, 39 per cent of patients taking lorcaserin lost at least 5 per cent of their body weight compared to 17 per cent of those in the placebo group.

There were also slight improvements in several cardiovascular risk-factors, including levels of triglycerides, blood glucose, heart rate and blood pressure.

The most common side-effects leading to drug discontinuation were dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea and diarrhoea.

Did You Know

The plastic security trays that we use to drop our wallets and other carry-ons in airports have the highest concentration of viruses, including viruses that cause the common cold, when researchers examined 90 swabs from various airport surfaces.

BMC Infectious Disease

Common painkiller poses cardiac risk

A commonly prescribed painkiller can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke by 50 percent, according to a Danish study published in The BMJ.

The researchers compared the cardiovascular risks of taking the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac with the risks of taking other painkillers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or naproxen, by examining 252 studies that included over 6.3 million people, aged 46–56, over a period of 20 years.

The risk for adverse cardiovascular events within 30 days of taking diclofenac was 50 per cent higher compared with those who did not take it; 20 per cent higher compared to those taking paracetamol or ibuprofen; and 30 per cent higher compared with those taking naproxen.

Additionally, those taking diclofenac had a 4.5 fold increased risk of upper gastrointestinal bleeding within 30 days compared with those not taking the drug, and a 2.5-fold increased risk compared with those taking ibuprofen or paracetamol. Diclofenac and naproxen users had similar upper gastrointestinal bleeding risk.

The cardiovascular threat was much higher for people who already had heart problems before taking the drug. “Diclofenac should not be available over the counter, and when prescribed, should be accompanied by an appropriate front package warning about its potential risks,” the study concluded.

Change meal timings to lose weight

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science, delaying your breakfast and advancing your dinner, both by 90 minutes, can help you eat less and lose body fat.

Half of the participants in the ten-week “time-restricted feeding” study had to delay their breakfast by 90 minutes and have their dinner 90 minutes earlier, while the other half continued with their usual meal timing. There was no restriction on their diet.

Participants provided blood samples and completed diet diaries before and during the study. Those who changed their meal timings lost on average more than twice as much body fat as those in the control group.

They also cut their daily calorie intake by about 25 per cent—from roughly 2,091 to 1,553 calories per day. According to a questionnaire they filled out, they ate less because they had reduced appetite, decreased opportunities to eat, or a cutback in snacking, especially in the evening.

“Although this study is small, it has provided us with invaluable insight into how slight alterations to our meal times can have benefits to our bodies,” said the lead researcher.

Did You Know

A Finnish study that followed 1,222 middle-aged men for almost four decades found that those who took only three weeks or less of vacation each year were 37 per cent more likely to die early compared to those who took more than three weeks.

European Society of Cardiology

Undescended testes may cause cancer and infertility

Those born with undescended testes are at increased risk for testicular cancer and infertility in adulthood. Undescended testes is the most common reproductive birth defect in infant boys, affecting one in 100. Surgical correction (orchiopexy) before 18 months of age is recommended. During the procedure the undescended testicle is moved into the scrotum and permanently fixed there.

For the study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, researchers analysed data on 3,50,835 boys, born in Australia between 1970 and 1999, and followed them until 2016.

Boys born with undescended testes had 2.4 times the risk of adult testicular cancer compared to unaffected boys. Also, those born with undescended testes had a 20 per cent lower chance of paternity and were more than twice as likely to use assisted reproductive technologies.

For each six-month delay of corrective surgery, there was a 6 per cent increase in risk of testicular cancer; a 5 per cent increase in risk of future use of assisted reproductive technologies; and a 1 per cent reduction in paternity.

The study provides new evidence to support international guidelines recommending surgery before 18 months of age. "Early surgery can reduce the risk of malignancy and male infertility, and ultimately has the potential to reduce future adult-male reproductive disorders," the lead researcher concluded.

Forehead wrinkles is a sign

Your forehead could hold clues to your heart health. According to a French study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2018, people with deep forehead wrinkles, that is more than typical for their age, are at a greater risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease.

The researchers assessed the cardiovascular risk of 3,200 healthy adults, ages 32, 42, 52 and 62 at the beginning of study, by examining their forehead wrinkles.

The participants were assigned scores depending on the number and depth of wrinkles—a score of 0 meant no wrinkles, while a score of 3 meant numerous deep wrinkles.

During 20 years of follow up, 233 participants died of various causes. The risk for cardiovascular mortality increased with the wrinkle score.

Compared with those with a wrinkle score of 0, those who had a wrinkle score of 1 were five times more likely to die from heart disease. The risk was nearly ten times greater for people with a wrinkle score of 2 or 3.

The link remained even after accounting for factors such as age, gender, education, smoking status, blood pressure, heart rate, diabetes and lipid levels.

While the exact reason for the link is not clear, the researchers think that “forehead wrinkles may be a marker of atherosclerosis.”