TIME Heart Disease

How Mindfulness Protects Your Heart

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Tuning in to your body is good for your health

Self-aware people have better heart health, a new study suggests.

People who are mindful score higher on healthy heart indicators, according to recent findings published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine from Brown University researchers. The team looked at whether having something called “dispositional mindfulness”—which means you’re the type of person who’s very aware and attentive to what you’re feeling and thinking at any given moment—was a factor for heart health. They found a pretty significant connection: people with high mindfulness scores had an 83% greater prevalence of good cardiovascular health.

Having dispositional mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean you’re regularly practicing mindfulness processes, like meditation. For some people, being more present is a natural part of their personality. For the rest of us, some say, it can be learned.

In the study, the researchers asked 382 people to evaluate statements that measure their level of mindfulness. Participants responded to statements like “I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present”on a six point scale ranging from “almost always” to “almost never.” The participants who scored highest with the best mindfulness scores also had very healthy scores when it came to the seven American Heart Association indicators for cardiovascular health. Those include avoiding smoking, being physically active, having a healthy body mass index, consuming decent amounts of fruits and vegetables, and maintaining good cholesterol, blood pressure and fasting blood glucose levels.

The associations appeared to be strongest with factors including smoking, BMI, fasting glucose and physical activity. “The society we live in right now is very promoting of cardiovascular disease…cigarettes are still pretty inexpensive, and jobs are sedentary,” says study author Eric Loucks, an assistant professor in epidemiology at Brown University. “People who are more mindful tend to have more awareness of where their mind and bodies are at. By increasing our awareness, we might become more aware of the impact of what we are doing on ourselves.” If a mindful person is less physically active, Loucks suggests, they might notice that they have less energy.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been taught in some medical settings for years, and Loucks points out that mindfulness scores tend to go up with the practice. “It does seem like mindfulness can be taught,” he says. “I think it’s good for it to be available for people who are interested in it…we shouldn’t force people to go mindfulness [training] if they don’t want to go. But it has the potential to be a resource.”

The findings are still preliminary, and the reasons for the connection are still inconclusive. But if corroborated, mindfulness interventions may be non-invasive ways to help people adopt healthier behaviors.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Kind of Tea Lowers Blood Pressure Naturally

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The best brew for your heart

Recent research has come down squarely on the side of caffeinated morning beverages, suggesting that coffee can protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes. Tea has enjoyed a healthy reputation for years as a heart-protector, and a study published in the October issue of British Journal of Nutrition suggests it might even help lower blood pressure.

Researchers were intrigued by the inconclusive link in studies so far regarding blood pressure and tea intake, so they analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials—the gold standard of scientific research—to further explore on the association.

They found that in the short term, tea didn’t seem to make a difference for blood pressure. But long-term tea intake did have a significant impact. After 12 weeks of drinking tea, blood pressure was lower by 2.6 mmHg systolic and 2.2 mmHg diastolic. Green tea had the most significant results, while black tea performed the next best.

Those might not seem like big numbers, but small changes in blood pressure can have a significant impact on health, the study authors write. Reducing systolic blood pressure by 2.6 mmHg “would be expected to reduce stroke risk by 8%, coronary artery disease mortality by 5% and all-cause mortality by 4% at a population level,” they write.

Tea is thought to offer endothelial protection by helping blood vessels relax, allowing blood to flow more freely. It’s a high source of antioxidants that have been linked to better cardiovascular health.

The researchers weren’t able to pinpoint the optimal number of cups to drink to get the benefit, but other studies have shown protective effects at 3-4 daily cups. The researchers said they didn’t see a difference in caffeinated tea vs. decaf.

“These are profound effects and must be considered seriously in terms of the potential for dietary modification to modulate the risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease],” the authors write.

Read next: 6 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

TIME Aging

5 Reasons Why Women Live Longer Than Men

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Life expectancy in the U.S. is at an all-time high, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while the news that we’re living, on average, to the ripe old age of 78 years and 9 ½ months isn’t that surprising, there is one stat that is: A girl born in 2012 can expect to live to 81.2 years—almost 5 years longer than a boy baby born the same year, who’s likely live to age 76.4. Weaker sex, indeed.

“Men are biologically and sociologically at a disadvantage from the time they’re conceived to the time they die,” says Marianne Legato, MD, professor emerita of clinical medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and founder and director of the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine. Here’s why:

Females are tougher in utero

Two and a half as many boys are conceived as girls, Dr. Legato says, but they’re so much more likely to succumb to prenatal infection or other issues in the womb that by the time they’re born, the ratio is close to one to one. “They’re also slower to develop physically than girls prenatally, which means they’re more likely to die if they are preemies due to underdeveloped lung or brain development,” Dr. Legato explains.

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Women are less likely to be daredevils

Unintentional injuries are the third leading cause of death in men, according to the CDC; for women it’s only the sixth. Again, you can blame it on biology: The frontal lobes of the brain—which deal with responsibility and risk calculation—develop much more slowly in males than females, Dr. Legato says.

The result: Guys often take many more risks (which you probably already realize if your small son has taken one too many spins off his bike handlebars). “Almost inevitably, a male will take risks that a woman of his same age wouldn’t take,” Dr. Legato says.

Women succumb to heart disease later

Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women, but men are more likely to develop it—and die from it—as early as their 30s and 40s. Women, on the other hand, typically develop heart disease 10 years later than men. They’re protected from it until menopause, since their bodies churn out estrogen, which helps keep arteries strong and flexible, says Dr. Legato.

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Women have stronger social networks

Friends make good medicine: People with strong social connections have a 50% lower chance of dying than those with few social ties, according to a 2010 study at Brigham Young University. “Most men tend to hold their stress and worries close to their chest, while women tend to reach out and talk to others,” Dr. Legato explains. The one exception: married men, which also explains why so many studies show that they’re likely to be healthier and live longer.

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Women take better care of their health

Men are 24% less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year and are 22% more likely to skip out on cholesterol testing, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In fact more than a quarter (28%) of men don’t have a regular physician and about one in five didn’t have health insurance in 2012, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

You can blame it on the so-called John Wayne syndrome: “Men often deny illness; they minimize symptoms because they don’t want to go to a doctor and find out something is wrong,” Dr. Legato notes.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Heart Disease

People Without Friends Have Worse Outcomes After Heart Attack

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The importance of friends for heart health

Without the support of friends and family, you’re less likely to emerge from a heart attack healthy.

A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed the responses of 3,432 heart attack patients on their levels of social support one month and then a year after a heart attack. One-fifth of them had low social support—meaning they felt that they didn’t have friends or family they could confide in or lean on for emotional or financial support—and during their recovery this group showed lower mental functioning, worse quality of life and more depressive symptoms. The effect affected men and women equally.

MORE: A Happy, Optimistic Outlook May Protect Your Heart

Encouraging social support isn’t usually seen as a top priority for heart attack recovery, but this is just one more piece of evidence that it should be: one study showed that within six months of having a heart attack, depression increased the risk of death from 3% to 17%.

MORE: A Link Between Anxiety and Heart Attacks

“We shouldn’t just be concerning ourselves with pills and procedures,” said Harlan Krumholz, MD, the study’s senior author and director of the Center of Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in a statement. “We have to pay attention to things like love and friendship and the context of people’s lives. It may be that these efforts to help people connect better with others, particularly after an illness, may have very powerful effects on their recovery and the quality of their lives afterwards.”

TIME Heart Disease

Fat In Olive Oil Repairs Failing Hearts, Study Finds

Olive oil.
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Yup, the Mediterranean diet seriously starts today

For broken rat hearts, nothing beats a healthy glug of olive oil.

That’s what new research published in the journal Circulation found when it looked at beating rat hearts riddled with heart failure, a condition that manifests itself in humans over time when chronic high blood pressure makes it harder for the heart to pump blood, making the heart grow bigger, thicker, and less effective. The heart becomes unable to metabolize and store the fat it needs to keep pumping—like an engine out of fuel, the study author says—and the fat it does manage to metabolize breaks down into toxic by-products that exacerbate heart disease.

MORE: Ending the War on Fat

It’s a complicated problem without an obvious quick fix, which is why researchers were surprised by what came next. To see exactly how fat moves around in the cells of these impaired hearts, they removed hearts from rats, kept them beating normally and put them in a strong magnetic field through a process called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. They delivered two types of fat directly to the hearts—either oleate, the kind of fat found in olive oil and canola oil, or palmitate, which is in dairy products, palm oil and animal fat. When the scientists followed the fat around, they found drastic differences in how the hearts reacted to the two fats.

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“If we gave hearts that were failing palmitate, they basically looked like failing hearts,” says E. Douglas Lewandowski, study author and director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Cardiovascular Research. Their fat metabolism and storage remained depressed and the hearts weren’t producing enzymes that would help metabolize fat. But when they gave the hearts oleate, they vastly improved. The presence of oleate completely restored the fat content in the cell back to normal, Lewandowski says, and the hearts contracted better and showed normalized genes that help in fat metabolism.

“We didn’t think it would have such profound effects,” Lewandowski says. “When we think about normalizing the metabolism, it’s so far upstream of so many disease processes that it’s very exciting.” In just half an hour, the fat induced all of these positive changes.

MORE: Can Olive Oil Help Prevent Stroke?

More research—especially on humans—is needed before imagining that oleate could help the failing hearts of people, but Lewandowski admits his study shows the potential for actual dietary therapeutic regimens. And the results might help partly explain why the Mediterranean diet is so heart-healthy. People who follow it have long shown lower rates of heart disease death and heart problems, and the good monounsaturated fats, like the kind in oleate, raises the good kind of cholesterol and lowers the less desirable kind. We’ll have to wait for the olive oil heart infusions, but in the meantime, here’s your latest excuse for heavy-handed drizzling.

TIME Heart Disease

Cardiac Arrest Patients Need CPR, Not Hospitals, Doctor Says

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Physicians debate whether taking cardiac arrest patients to the hospital is worth the time lost

Patients undergoing cardiac arrest are better off being treated right away by ambulatory teams instead of being taken to hospitals, a physician argued in The BMJ on Wednesday.

Cardiac arrest–not to be confused with a heart attack–is an instantaneous loss of heart function. A heart attack is caused by a blockage, whereas cardiac arrest is a malfunction in the heart’s systems. Typically, immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is the best treatment, but in his editorial, Jonathan Benger, a professor of emergency care at the University of the West of England, argues that there’s not a lot more a hospital can do, and that preparing a patient for transport only leads to delays in care.

In his opinion, that should stop.

In the U.K. less than 10% of patients with cardiac arrest survive and leave the hospital. In Benger’s argument, first responders should instead do what they can at the scene of the incident—including CPR and early defibrillation—without worrying about taking the patient to the hospital. “If spontaneous circulation does not return then the patient’s death should be accepted and made as dignified as possible,” he writes.

Rates of survival for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in the U.S. are only about 9.5%, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). But the type of strategy Benger suggests probably won’t change clinical practice soon, other experts say.

“Although overall survival to discharge of patients who are neurologically intact is quite low, the concept of abandoning all resuscitation efforts at the scene after cardiac arrest is not a practice that is ready for prime time in the U.S.,” says Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. According to Glatter, the ability to conduct a high-level, tech-enabled resuscitation is still limited in the field. In some cases, Glatter says a reversible cause for the cardiac arrest can be identified in the hospital.

One of the greatest arguments against not bringing cardiac arrest patients to the hospital is that it could hinder organ donor supplies. “The potential loss of patients who are not resuscitated in the hospital setting from ambulance transport could lead to a loss of vital organs for transplant,” says Glatter. “That would have a ripple effect to those who need organs the most.”

Given the low survival rates of cardiac arrest, skipping the transport time is a valid argument, but missing out on some of the technologies and expertise at a hospital will likely be very hard for the medical community to justify at this point.

TIME Heart Disease

Healthy Behaviors Can Prevent 4 Out of 5 Heart Attacks

A study of Swedish men shows just how beneficial healthy living is for the heart

We all know the basic tenets of a healthy lifestyle–maintaining a good diet and waist size, exercising, not smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation. But how healthy will they get you, exactly? A new study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology quantifies the effects of a healthy lifestyle and finds that practicing these behaviors can prevent four out of five coronary events in men.

Researchers looked at a study population of 20,721 healthy Swedish men between the ages of 45 to 79 and followed them for more than a decade, asking them about their lifestyle choices and behaviors from levels of physical activity to their smoking status.

Men didn’t have to stick to every healthy behavior to see results: Every good habit was associated with a reduced risk for heart attack. Eating a low-risk diet plus drinking alcohol in moderation was associated with a 35% reduced risk of heart attack compared to those in the high-risk group. When men combined even more behaviors, the protective effects soared. Men who don’t smoke and walked or cycled at least 40 minutes a day, exercised at least one hour a week, had a waist circumference under 37.4 inches, drank moderately, and ate a diet of fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, fish and whole grains had an 86% lower risk of heart attack than those with high-risk behaviors.

It’s not all good news, of course. Only 1% of men in the study–and about the same amount of the U.S. population–keeps this kind of heart-healthy regime.

TIME Research

Here’s Why You May Be Better Off Taking Generic Cholesterol Drugs

Patients with cheaper drugs tended to take their medicine more consistently

A new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the cost difference between generic and brand-name drugs seems to be a big factor when it comes to sticking with a medication–especially when it comes to statins, one of the most-prescribed drugs in the country. People who got the generic versions of the cholesterol-lowering medication were more likely to consistently take it and avoid cardiovascular disorders than those who filled the brand-name kind.

“Initiating a generic versus a brand-name statin seems to be associated with lower out-of-pocket costs, improved adherence to therapy, and improved clinical outcomes,” the study said.

The study, which looked at more than 90,000 patients over age of 65, found that people taking generic drugs were more likely to stick to their medication regimen. Price played a role in this disparity, the study suggests. The average cost to fill a prescription for the consumer was $10 for generic statins versus $48 for brand names.

“Given this substantial cost difference, it is perhaps not surprising that adherence and cardiovascular outcomes were worse among patients receiving brand-name statins,” study authors wrote. Overall, people who took generic drugs had 8% fewer incidents than people who used brand-name drugs.

The study received grant support from drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceutical (which makes both generic and brand-name drugs) and acknowledges that the results may not be generalizable for certain populations: particularly those with greater incomes or access to insurance plans that provide better coverage for brand-name drugs.

TIME diabetes

Why Inflammation Matters for Diabetics

Anti-inflammatory medications might someday be used to lower the risk of certain kinds of disease among diabetics, found a new study presented at the American Heart Association’s High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions 2014.

In the laboratory, the researchers studied cultured cells from a human aorta, the blood vessel that comes out of the heart and goes to the rest of the body. They put the cells in a high-glucose environment—similar to a what happens inside a diabetic body—and found that without inflammation present, sugar didn’t enter the cells. And even when glucose was forced into the cells, the cells weren’t damaged.

But inflammation changes everything. When researchers added an inflammatory protein called interleukin-1—a common marker for inflammation in the body, whether you are diabetic or not—the cell did metabolize the glucose, which kicked off a cycle of inflammation. Those effects were blocked once the researchers gave the cells a certain type of anti-inflammatory drug.

“What [the study authors] said was, you need the inflammation in order for the glucose to do the damage to the cells,” explained Mary Ann Bauman, MD, a primary care internist at INTEGRIS Health in Oklahoma City and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. (Dr. Bauman was not an author on the study.) “That could be one of the reasons why in a diabetic, if we can get them to exercise and lose weight, they will have less damage to their blood vessels.”

In diabetes care, doctors and patients often focus on reducing blood sugar levels, and though this preliminary research occurred only in cells, it shows how inflammation might play a role, Dr. Bauman said.

That means that controlling blood sugar isn’t always enough to avoid the cardiovascular disease that sometimes stems from diabetes, and anti-inflammatory drugs may one day be able to help, said study author Carlos Sánchez-Ferrer, professor of pharmacology at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain, in a press release. Lifestyle changes can help, too. “We need to reduce the inflammatory environment associated with diabetes,” Sánchez-Ferrer said. “Changes in lifestyle, such as physical exercise and weight reduction, are important not only because they reduce blood sugar but because they reduce inflammation.”

TIME

Eating Fruit Cuts Heart Disease Risk by 40%

Heart with coronary vessels
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An extra helping of leafy-greens is good for your heart

Eating fruit every day can lower risk of heart disease by up to 40%, new research suggests.

A new study that looked at more than 451,680 participants over seven years asked the group to report their fruit consumption, whether it be never, monthly, 1-3 days per week, 4-6 days per week, or daily.

The researchers found that compared to people who never eat fruit, those who eat fruit every day cut their heart disease risk by 25% to 40%. Those who ate the most amount of fruit also had much lower blood pressure compared to the participants who never ate fruit.

The study is not the first to find a connection between eating fruit and having better heart health. One study of about 110,000 men and women over 14 years found that people who eat fruit and vegetables every day had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and some studies have found that citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruits have especially protective benefits.

Next time you’re in need of a snack, grab an apple over a bag of chips. It’s surely not the last time science will say it.

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