heart failure

In celebration of this year’s World Heart Day, Wella Health, a leading African health tech startup, is carrying out free blood pressure tests for over 100,000 Nigerians across its 600 partner pharmacies from Tuesday September 29 to October 29 this year.

World Heart Day is observed and celebrated every September 29. The global awareness day is intended to increase public understanding of cardiovascular diseases, prevention, early detection and treatment.

According to research, cardiovascular diseases commonly referred to as CVDs are the number one cause of death globally, killing 17.9 million people yearly and accounting for 31 per cent of all global deaths.

Speaking on the campaign, CEO Wella Health, Dr Neto Ikpeme stated that cardiovascular diseases are often perceived as a problem strictly for older people. “Unfortunately, it is now more common in adolescents and young adults.”

According to the expert, for 25 to 34-year-old men and women, heart disease is the fourth leading cause of death while for 35 to 44-year-olds, heart disease is even deadlier and is the second biggest killer of men and third biggest killer of women.

“CVDs can affect anyone and at any age. The rise in obesity and diabetes at earlier ages also adds to the overall risk,” he added.

By offering free blood pressure tests to over 100,000 Nigerians in celebration of world heart day and later world stroke day coming up in October, Ikpeme said their goal is to join the global fight against cardiovascular diseases and minimise mortality, especially among young adult.

In his perspective, a blood pressure screening is important because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms and cannot be detected without being measured.

He noted, “High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for heart disease and often considered a silent killer.”

Experts have revealed that the primary causes of cardiovascular diseases are smoking, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol which in turn show up in people as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and obesity.

His words, “Lifestyle changes including healthy eating, regular physical activity and quitting tobacco use are advised to improve heart health.”

Wellahealth is a health technology startup focused on providing affordable and accessible high-quality healthcare protection for all Africans.

A study in the United States demonstrates that mortality rates from heart failure are higher in counties where people face more poverty and social deprivation.

Heart failure, sometimes called congestive heart failure, is a chronic condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood around the body to meet its needs.

The condition is irreversible, although there are treatments that can help people live longer, more active lives.

About 5.7 million people in the U.S. have heart failure, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

A new study suggests that the risk of dying from the condition is not spread evenly across the country, but that mortality rates are higher in poorer, more socially deprived areas.

Researchers at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, OH, analyzed 1,254,991 deaths from heart failure across 3,048 counties between 1999 and 2018.

They used two standard indices of social deprivation: the Area Deprivation Index (ADI), which takes into account multiple local measures, including employment, poverty, and education, and the Social Deprivation Index (SDI), which is based on income and housing.

After adjusting for age, they found that the average death rate from heart failure per county was 25.5 deaths per 100,000 head of population.

However, counties with higher rates of socioeconomic deprivation had higher death rates from heart failure, and the association held up regardless of race or ethnicity, sex, and degree of urbanization.

The levels of deprivation that the ADI measures accounted for roughly 13% of the variability in heart failure mortality among counties. This scale of risk is similar to that of other recognized risk factors for heart failure, such as obesity and diabetes, say the scientists. Correlation with housing and income — the social factors that the SDI measures — accounted for 5% of this variability.

The study features in the latest issue of the Journal of Cardiac Failure.

Persistent inequality

The research revealed that the imbalance in survival rates between wealthy and deprived areas changed little between 1999 and 2018.

“Analysis of trends in heart failure mortality shows that these disparities have persisted throughout the last two decades,” says first author Dr. Graham Bevan, a resident physician at University Hospitals.

Bevan and his colleagues say that a range of factors may be responsible for the increased risk of dying from heart failure in poorer counties. These include reduced access to healthcare, substandard care, and poor health literacy.

They also note that the successful treatment of heart failure is dependent on patients adhering to a complex and often expensive drug regimen.

The authors write:

“Regardless of the contributing factors, the association between communities with high socioeconomic deprivation and [heart failure] mortality is strong and suggests that targeting social deprivation may be impactful in reducing [heart failure] mortality. Additionally, the yield of intensive [heart failure] preventive strategies may be higher in areas with high social deprivation.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) believe that aggressively tackling the major clinical risk factors for heart failure could significantly reduce the death toll. These clinical factors include hypertension, heart attacks, obesity, diabetes, and disorders of the heart valves.

“Living in a particular county should not mean you’re more likely to die from heart failure,” says co-author Dr. Sadeer G. Al-Kindi, a cardiologist at University Hospitals’ Harrington Heart and Vascular Institute.

“University Hospitals has a history of addressing healthcare disparities in underserved communities and, armed with the information from this study, we can thoughtfully create solutions to better serve these populations.”

One of the limitations of their study, the authors write, was that it relied on the information given on death certificates, which may not be accurate in every instance.

Also, the study was not designed to tease apart the effects of other recognized risk factors for heart failure mortality, some of which — such as lack of physical activity, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure — may also be associated with poverty. However, a recent study showed that these factors together failed to account for 57% of the geographical variation in deaths from heart failure among counties in the U.S.

This new study suggests that socioeconomic deprivation may help explain part of that variation.

A study links the consumption of ultra-processed foods with the shortening of the body’s telomeres.

Telomeres are structures located at the ends of our chromosomes. Although they contain no genetic information themselves, they preserve the integrity of chromosomes by keeping their ends from fraying, much as shoelace tips protect the laces.

Telomeres become shorter and less effective over time as chromosomes replicate. Scientists view them as markers of an individual’s biological age at a cellular level.

New research indicates that eating ultra-processed foods is linked to the accelerated shortening of telomeres and cell aging.

The researchers, from the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, presented their findings at this year’s European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) in September.

The findings also feature in a study paper in The Americal Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Lucia Alonso-Pedrero, who is a doctoral researcher at this university, led the study.

The rise of ultra-processed foods

The consumption of ultra-processed foods, or UPFs, is on the rise worldwide. UPFs are manufactured food products comprising the building blocks of naturally occurring foods: protein isolates, sugars, fats, and oils.

However, while their components are often extracted from natural sources, UPFs ultimately contain no, or very little, in the way of whole foods.

The companies that produce UPFs often add flavorings and emulsifiers for taste, as well as colorings and other cosmetic additives to achieve the desired appearance. UPFs are nutritionally poor and often unbalanced.

UPFs are highly profitable for their producers due to their inexpensive ingredients, cost effective manufacturing processes, and long shelf life in stores. What makes them so attractive to consumers is their convenience and their relative imperishability.

Previous research has not conclusively established a link between UPFs in general and telomere length (TL). However, researchers have noted associations between TL and alcoholsugar-sweetened beveragesprocessed meats, and foods high in saturated fat and sugar.

Other research indicates a UPF connection to several serious conditions, such as obesityhypertensiondepressionmetabolic syndrome, some types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. However, these conditions also tend to be age-related and thus difficult to associate definitively with the consumption of UPFs.

UPFs and telomere length

The NOVA system classifies foods according to the degree of processing that their production involves, as opposed to their nutritional content. The goal of Alonso-Pedrero and her colleagues was to investigate the effect of UPF consumption in older adults using NOVA as a means of categorizing the foods that they consumed.

The researchers began their analysis with data from the SUN project, which the University of Navarra is conducting with other Spanish universities. The ongoing study began recruiting in 2000 and includes volunteers over the age of 20 years. Participants are required to fill out and return questionnaires every 2 years.

In 2008, all SUN participants over the age of 55 years took part in a genetic study that forms the foundation of the new research. A total of 886 individuals — 645 men and 241 women — provided saliva samples for DNA analysis and self-reported their daily food consumption. Their average age was 67.7 years.

The team sorted the participants into four groups of equal size, or quartiles, according to the number of UPF servings that they consumed daily:

  • low: under 2 servings
  • medium-low: 2–2.5 servings
  • medium-high: 2.5–3 servings
  • high: more than 3 servings

In terms of telomeres, Alonso-Pedrero and her colleagues detected a clear correspondence between TL and the consumption of UPFs.

The likelihood of shortened telomeres increased dramatically with the number of UPF servings, starting with the medium-low group. That group was 29% more likely to exhibit reduced TL, while the medium-high group was 40% more likely to do so. Those in the high group were 82% more likely to have shortened telomeres.

The study’s authors write:

“In this cross-sectional study of elderly Spanish subjects, we showed a robust strong association between UPF consumption and TL. Further research in larger longitudinal studies with baseline and repeated measures of TL is needed to confirm these observations.”

The researchers also made a number of general observations regarding those who consumed more than 3 servings of UPFs per day. People in this quartile:

  • were more likely to have diabetes, a family history of cardiovascular disease, and abnormal blood fats under their skin
  • were the participants most likely to snack between meals
  • consumed less protein, carbohydrate, fiber, fruit, vegetables, olive oil, and other micronutrients

Individuals who ate more UPFs were less likely to adhere to a healthful Mediterranean diet. In exchange, they consumed more fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, sodium, sugar-sweetened beverages, cholesterol, fast food, and processed meats.

The study authors also found that those who consumed higher amounts of UPFs were more likely to experience depression — especially when they were less active physically.

Finally, the findings linked the consumption of UPFs to excessive body weight, hypertension, and all-cause mortality.

If your cholesterol level has crept up over the years, you may wonder whether changing your diet can help. Ideally, your total cholesterol value should be 200 milligrammes per deciliter (mg/dL) or lower. But it is the harmful Low-Density Lipo-protein (LDL) ‘bad’ cholesterol value that experts worry about the most. Excess LDL builds up on artery walls and triggers a release of inflammatory substances that boost heart attack risk.

“To prevent heart disease, your LDL should be 100 mg/dL or lower,” says Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of preventive cardiology at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But many Americans have LDL values that are less than optimal (100 to 129 mg/dL) or borderline high (130 to 159 mg/dL).

If you fall into either of those categories, you may be able to nudge down your LDL to a healthier level by changing what you eat, particularly if your current diet could use some improvement. However, most people with higher LDL values likely will also need to take a cholesterol-lowering drug, such as a statin, says Dr. Plutzky.

Dietary directives
Avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol isn’t the best way to lower your LDL. Your overall diet — especially the types of fats and carbohydrates you eat — has the most impact on your blood cholesterol values. “As the American Heart Association has noted, you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by lowering saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

That means avoiding meat, cheese, and other high-fat dairy products such as butter, half-and-half, and ice cream. Equally important is replacing those calories with healthy, unsaturated fats (such as those found in vegetable oils, avocados, and fatty fish) rather than refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and white rice. Unlike healthy fats, these starchy foods aren’t very filling, and they can trigger overeating and weight gain.

The other big problem with refined carbs: They are woefully low in fibre, which helps flush cholesterol out of the body.

The fibre factor
Your body can’t break down fiber, so it passes through your body undigested. It comes in two varieties: insoluble and soluble. Fiber-containing foods usually feature a mix of the two.

Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water. While it doesn’t directly lower LDL, this form of fiber fills you up, crowding other cholesterol-raising foods out of your diet and helping to promote weight loss.

Soluble fibre dissolves in water, creating a gel. This gel traps some of the cholesterol in your body, so it’s eliminated as waste instead of entering your arteries.

Soluble fibre also binds to bile acids, which carry fats from your small intestine into the large intestine for excretion. This triggers your liver to create more bile acids — a process that requires cholesterol. If the liver doesn’t have enough cholesterol, it draws more from the bloodstream, which in turn lowers your circulating LDL.

Finally, certain soluble fibres (called oligosaccharides) are fermented into short-chain fatty acids in the gut. These fatty acids may also inhibit cholesterol production.

The “best” foods
The following 11 foods are good sources of fibre or unsaturated fat (or both). But they’re not in any particular order and are simply suggestions. Most whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are good sources of fiber. And most nuts and seeds (and the oils made from them) provide monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.

1. Oatmeal. This whole grain is one of the best sources of soluble fiber, along with barley (see “Grain of the month,” at right). Start your day with a bowl of steel-cut or old-fashioned rolled oats, topped with fresh or dried fruit for a little extra fiber.

2. White beans. Also called navy beans, this variety ranks highest in fiber content. Try different types of beans as well, such as black beans, garbanzos, or kidney beans, which you can add to salads, soups, or chili. But avoid prepared baked beans, which are canned in sauce that’s loaded with added sugar.

3. Avocado. The creamy, green flesh of an avocado is not only rich in monounsaturated fat; it also contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. Enjoy this fruit sliced in salad, pureed into dip, or mashed and spread on a slice of whole-grain toast.

4. Eggplant. Although not everyone’s favorite, these deep purple vegetables are one of the richest sources of soluble fiber. One idea: oven-roast or grill whole eggplants until soft and use the flesh in a Middle Eastern dip called baba ghanoush.

5. Carrots. Raw baby carrots are a tasty and convenient snack — and they also give you a decent dose of insoluble fiber.

6. Almonds. Among nuts, almonds are highest in fiber, although other popular varieties such as pistachios and pecans are close behind. Walnuts have the added advantage of being a good source of polyunsaturated, plant-based omega-3 fatty acids.

7. Kiwi fruit. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to peel these fuzzy, brown fruits. But to avoid the skin, slice one in half and scoop out the inside with a spoon for an easy, fiber-rich, sweet snack.

8. Berries. Because these fruits are packed with tiny seeds, their fiber content is higher than most other fruits. Raspberries and blackberries provide the most, but strawberries and blueberries are also good sources.

9. Cauliflower. This cruciferous veggie not only provides fiber, but it can also serve as a substitute for white rice. Just shred or whirl in a food processor until it resembles rice, then sauté with a little olive oil until tender.

10. Soy. Eating soybeans and foods made from them, such as soymilk, tofu, and tempeh, was once touted as a powerful way to lower cholesterol. More recent analyses showed the effect is modest, at best. Still, protein-rich, soy-based foods are a far healthier choice than a hamburger or other red meat.

11. Salmon. Likewise, eating cold-water fish such as salmon twice a week can lower LDL by replacing meat and delivering healthy omega-3 fats. Other good fish options include chunk light canned tuna and tinned sardines.

Depending on the type of fats and oils, they can either be implicated in the development of a disease or one that can prevent diseases that may be caused by another kind of fat.

For instance, fats and oils have a very significant role to play concerning the health of the arteries, the heart, and the brain. This is occasioned by their involvement in the formation of arteriosclerosis. As we already are aware, this is the deposition of plaques on the arteries that eventually lead to the blockage of the vessels. The blockage of the vessels results in coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.

The type of fats implicated in the formation of arteriosclerotic plaques is saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and triglycerides.

As stated earlier, cholesterol is not appreciably water-soluble and to be transported in the bloodstream, which is predominantly water-based, it has to be bound to lipoproteins. Two major kinds of lipoproteins that we are interested in are the Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and the High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL). When cholesterol is bound to LDL, we have what is known as LDL-Cholesterol. HDL bound to cholesterol is known as HDL-cholesterol. The LDL when bound to cholesterol is referred to as ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol and if it is bound to HDL, it is known as ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol. Cholesterol is never bad or good but this description has been given because of the direction of transport of cholesterol when it is bound to the lipoproteins. The LDL, which transports cholesterol from the liver to the cells, increases the risk of plaque formation as cholesterol accumulates in the blood vessels. On the other hand, the HDL transports cholesterol from the cells to the liver where it is excreted in the bile. What this means, is that, if there is more HDL-cholesterol in circulation, the risk of arteriosclerosis and heart disease will be significantly reduced. When LDL-cholesterol becomes higher, therefore, the risk of arteriosclerosis and heart attack increases.

In considering what kind of fats and oils one should be eating, the effect of the diet on HDL or LDL must never be overlooked. For example, trans fats increase LDL-cholesterol and decrease HDL-cholesterol. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids represented by omega 3 and 6; increase HDL-cholesterol, while decreasing LDL-cholesterol. Saturated fats increase both the ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol and the ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol.

We also need to remember that the consistency of the fats and oils differentiate between the animal fats and plant fats. Animal fats, mainly saturated fats are solid at room temperature, while the plant fats, more often referred to, as oils are liquid at room temperature. Trans fats, which are solid at room temperature, are partially hydrogenated fat and have been described as the worst kind of fat a human being can consume. Trans fats increase LDL-cholesterol and decrease HDL-cholesterol. Examples of common trans fats are margarine and shortening. These along with oils that are used for deep-frying of things such as potatoes and chicken should be avoided.

Saturated fats tend to increase the level of cholesterol in the blood and for this reason, nutritionists advise that this kind of fats, if not avoided completely should be eaten less frequently. To be sure, I have reproduced the sources of saturated fats as a guide for us: Fatty portions of red meat, pork, chicken, and turkey eaten with the skin, butter, dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, cream, and fried and baked foods. Some prepared foods, for example, sausage, pizza, and desserts are also high in saturated fats. There are certain oils from plants like palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil that are saturated fats but do not contain cholesterol.

The best kind of fatty acids are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. They both increase HDL-cholesterol and decrease LDL-cholesterol. They also reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke. Examples of these are omega 3 and 6 and they can be found in such plants as almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, cashew nuts, avocados, and olives.

Polyunsaturated fats are predominantly found in flaxseed, walnuts (roasted), pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seed. They are also found in freshwater fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, mackerel, and trout.

As I bring this article to a close, the recommendation is: Eat more of the unsaturated fatty acids – omega 3 and 6, less of saturated fats, and none of the trans fats.

A study suggests that influenza viruses can spread through the air not only in droplets — which a person who has the virus releases when they talk, cough, or sneeze — but also on microscopic dust particles.

Seasonal flu outbreaks are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year. In a pandemic, such as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, millions can lose their lives.

In order to reduce transmission, scientists need to understand exactly how influenza viruses spread from person to person.

Experts have assumed that the droplets produced when a person with the virus breathes, talks, coughs, or sneezes are solely responsible for the airborne transmission of viruses.

But a new study suggests that dust, fibers, and other microscopic particles can also transmit influenza viruses through the air, with far-reaching implications for preventing and controlling outbreaks.

“It’s really shocking to most virologists and epidemiologists that airborne dust, rather than expiratory droplets, can carry influenza virus capable of infecting animals,” says Professor William Ristenpart of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of California Davis (UC Davis).

Prof. Ristenpart is one of the authors of the new study, along with scientists at UC Davis and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NY. The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.

“The implicit assumption is always that airborne transmission occurs because of respiratory droplets emitted by coughing, sneezing, or talking,” he adds.

“Transmission via dust opens up whole new areas of investigation and has profound implications for how we interpret laboratory experiments, as well as epidemiological investigations of outbreaks.”

People can contract viruses by touching contaminated objects, such as doorknobs, toys, towels, and used tissues. Scientists call these contaminated objects fomites. The researchers believe that aerosolized fomites, or contaminated dust particles, can also carry viruses.

Experiments found that the influenza virus remained viable on materials, such as paper tissues and on guinea pigs’ bodies, for long enough to become airborne on dust particles. They showed that these particles could then transmit the infection to new hosts.

In their experiments, they found that the influenza virus remained viable on materials such as paper tissues and the bodies of guinea pigs for long enough to become airborne on dust particles. They showed that these particles could then transmit the infection to new hosts.

Bursts of particles

First, the scientists used a device called an aerodynamic particle sizer to sample the air from a cage containing a guinea pig.

The device revealed that the animal generated airborne particles ranging in size from 0.3 to 20 micrometers (or thousandths of a millimeter) in bursts of about 1,000 particles per second whenever it moved.

Healthy anesthetized animals exhaled only 0.10 to 0.18 particles per second, and anesthetized animals with influenza generated 0.5 particles per second.

This suggested that dust, rather than respiratory droplets, accounted for the vast majority of particulate matter released into the air while the animals were active.

To test whether these particles were likely to become contaminated with the virus, the researchers infected guinea pigs with a strain of influenza. Two days later, swabs of their fur, ears, paws, and cages all yielded viable virus.

Next, the researchers investigated whether aerosolized fomites from one animal could infect another. To do this, they applied a solution of flu virus particles to guinea pigs’ bodies using a paintbrush.

Crucially, scientists had previously infected these animals with this strain of flu, so they were immune to reinfection. This meant they would not breathe out virus-laden droplets.

When the researchers placed these cages near those containing guinea pigs still susceptible to the virus, 3 out of 12 of these animals developed the infection.

“Thus, we conclude that airborne particulate matter from a non-respiratory source can transmit influenza virus through the air to a susceptible host,” the researchers write.

Paper tissues

In their final experiment, the researchers investigated whether the dust from an inanimate source, namely a contaminated paper tissue, could carry viable virus particles.

The scientists applied a solution of the virus to the tissues and allowed them to dry out for 30-45 minutes. They then crumpled, folded, and rubbed the tissues next to the aerodynamic particle sizer, which recorded the release of around 900 particles a second.

They found that the particles, which were small enough for inhalation, carried a virus that was still capable of infecting cell cultures in the lab.

“These results show that dried influenza virus remains viable in the environment, on materials such as paper tissues and on the bodies of living animals, long enough to be aerosolized on non-respiratory dust particles that can transmit infection through the air to new mammalian hosts.” – Sima Asadi, et al

The researchers emphasize that scientists will need to carry out further research in people and other animal models to confirm their results.

If confirmed, scientists may be able to apply the discovery to other viral respiratory infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

In April, Medical News Today reported on a study that took place in hospitals during the COVID-19 outbreak in China. It found that the highest levels of airborne viral RNA were in rooms where healthcare workers removed personal protective equipment.

This hints that removing contaminated clothing might aerosolize the virus, the authors of the new study write.

“In light of our experiments, we conclude that the contribution of aerosolized fomites to respiratory virus transmission in both humans and animal models requires further scientific consideration and rigorous investigation.”

Scientists have found that eating a lot of rice increases the risk of dying from heart disease due to the naturally occurring arsenic in the crop.

Rice is the most widely consumed staple food source for a large part of the world’s population. It has now been confirmed that rice can contribute to prolonged low-level arsenic exposure leading to thousands of avoidable premature deaths per year.

Arsenic is well known acute poison, but it can also contribute to health problems, including cancers and cardiovascular diseases, if consumed at even relatively low concentrations over an extended period of time.

Compared to other staple foods, rice tends to concentrate inorganic arsenic. Across the globe, over three billion people consume rice as their major staple and the inorganic arsenic in that some to give rise to over 50,000 avoidable premature deaths per year has estimated rice.

Meanwhile, a study found Britons in the top 25 per cent of rice consumption are at six per cent increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than the bottom quarter.

The chemical gathers naturally in the crop and has repeatedly been linked to illness, dietary-related cancers and liver disease. In serious cases, it can result in death.

A collaborating group of cross-Manchester researchers from The University of Manchester and The University of Salford have published new research exploring the relationship, in England and Wales, between the consumption of rice and cardiovascular diseases caused by arsenic exposure.

Their findings, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, showed that once corrected for the major factors known to contribute to cardiovascular disease (for example obesity, smoking, age, lack of income, lack of education) there is a significant association between elevated cardiovascular mortality, recorded at a local authority level, and the consumption of inorganic arsenic bearing rice.

Prof. David Polya from The University of Manchester said: “The type of study undertaken, an ecological study, has many limitations, but is a relatively inexpensive way of determining if there is plausible link between increased consumption of inorganic arsenic bearing rice and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

“The modelled increased risk is around six per cent (with a confidence interval for this figure of two per cent to 11 per cent). The increased risk modelled might also reflect in part a combination of the susceptibility, behaviours and treatment of those communities in England and Wales with relatively high rice diets.”

While more robust types of study are required to confirm the result, given many of the beneficial effects otherwise of eating rice due to its high fibre content, the research team suggest that rather than avoid eating rice, people could consume rice varieties, such as basmati, and different types like polished rice (rather whole grain rice) which are known to typically have lower inorganic arsenic contents. Other positive behaviours would be to eat a balanced variety of staples, not just predominately rice.

Arsenic occurs naturally in the soil and is increased in locations that have used arsenic-based herbicides or water laced with the toxin for irrigation purposes.

Rice is grown under flooded conditions and this draws arsenic out of the soil and into the water, ahead of eventual absorption by the plants.

Rice is particularly vulnerable because arsenic mimics other chemicals the plant absorbed via its root system, allowing the toxin to bypass the plant’s defences.

Rising temperatures caused by global warming could cause the amount of arsenic in rice to triple by the end of the century, a new study warns.

Scientists at the University of Washington in the US grew rice and replicated various temperatures to mimic growing conditions under various global warming projections.

Trials were done at the current normal temperature of 77°F (25°C) as well as 82°F (28°C), 87°F (30.5°C), and 91°F (33°C) to mimic potential climates by 2100. Plants grown in warmer conditions were found to have higher levels of arsenic throughout the plant – including the grains.

MEANWHILE, rice is about the commonest, cheapest and easiest staple food prepared not only by Nigerian households but in most parts of the world as well.

Indeed, statistics from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) indicate that half the world’s population eats rice every day, making the staple a major source of nutrition for billions of people.

But recent studies have associated the much-loved staple with rise in chronic and degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, depression, developmental problems in children, heart disease and nervous system damage.

Most worrisome are lung and bladder cancers.While researchers have found traces of arsenic from old industrial pesticides on rice grains sold globally, a study reported in the journal PLoS ONE, showed rice has 10 times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and the European Food Standards Authority has reported that people who eat a lot of it are exposed to troubling concentrations.

According to the study, the levels of arsenic in rice vary by type, country of production and growing conditions.Generally, brown rice has higher levels because the arsenic is found in the outer coating or bran, which is removed in the milling process to produce white rice.

The study noted that in the short term, the regular consumption of rice could cause gastrointestinal problems, muscle cramping and lesions on the hands and feet.

The researchers observed that the risk of arsenic poisoning is greatest for people who eat rice several times a day, and for infants, whose first solid meals are often rice-based baby food.

In July 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) set worldwide guidelines for what it considers to be safe levels of arsenic in rice, suggesting a maximum of 200 microgrammes per kilogramme for white rice and 400 μg kg−1 for brown rice.

Also, scientists have identified rice as one of the staple diets that are genetically modified (GMOs). Others include corn, soy, cotton, papaya (pawpaw), tomatoes, rapeseed, dairy products, potatoes, and peas.

GMOs are accused of causing cancer, destroying the environment and storing up devastating health risks for children. Controversies surround genetically modified organisms on several levels, including ethics, environmental impact, food safety, product labeling, and role in meeting world food requirements, intellectual property and role in industrial agriculture.

An online journal, China Daily, reported potential serious public health and environment problems with genetically modified rice considering its tendency to cause allergic reactions with the concurrent possibility of gene transfers.

Scientists including the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) have warned that GMOs pose a serious threat to health, and it is no accident that there can be a correlation between it and adverse health effects.

In fact, the AAEM has advised doctors to tell their patients to avoid GMOs as the introduction of GMOs into the current food supply has correlated with an alarming rise in chronic diseases and food allergies.

It has been shown that eating a diet of white bread and rice could increase the risk of depression in older women, but whole grain foods, roughage and vegetables could reduce it.

According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, refined foods cause blood sugar levels to spike rapidly – prompting the body to pump out the hormone insulin, which helps break down the sugar. But this process can cause symptoms of depression. The findings could pave the way for depression being treated and prevented using nutrition.

In a study that included data from more than 70,000 post-menopausal women, scientists found a link between refined carbohydrate consumption and depression.

Britain’s leading expert on rice and contamination, Andy Meharg, a professor of plant and soil sciences at Queens University in Belfast, prevented his own children from eating some rice products because of the arsenic levels.

Meharg said the current method for cooking rice, essentially boiling it in a pan until it soaks up all the liquid, binds into place any arsenic contained in the rice and the cooking water.

By contrast, cooking it in a coffee percolator allows the steaming hot water to drip through the rice, washing away contaminants. There was a 57per cent reduction in arsenic with a ratio of 12 parts of water to one of rice and in some cases as much as 85per cent.

Meharg said: “Rice both white and brown are of good nutritional value. Brown rice especially contains E and B vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.

“White rice is not that good. More so the processed one that is genetically modified has higher levels of toxins.

“Firstly when you cook rice, rinse properly when it is warm before full boiling, and drain out the fluid. This will get rid of some of the toxins.”

Study author Dr. James Gangwisch, of Columbia University, United States, said: “This suggests that dietary interventions could serve as treatments and preventive measures for depression.

“Further study is needed to examine the potential of this novel option for treatment and prevention, and to see if similar results are found in the broader population.”

White refined foods, known as ‘bad carbs’, have also been said to contribute to obesity, low energy levels and insomnia. Different from their healthier counterparts, white carbs start with flour that has been ground and refined by stripping off the outer layer where fibre is found.

This missing fibre could do wonders for the body, helping reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, lower blood cholesterol and help people feel fuller for longer. Generally, the more refined the grain-based food, the lower the fibre count. By purchasing organic rice, limiting one’s rice intake and eating a balanced diet, however, experts suggest that health issues associated with long-term arsenic consumption can be avoided.

People of African descent have up to three times the risk of dying from strokes as people of European descent, yet there has been little investigation of if and how genetic variants contribute to their elevated stroke risk.

A large international team of scientists has completed the largest analysis of stroke-risk genes ever undertaken in individuals of African descent. The new study examined the genomes of more than 22,000 people of African ancestry, identifying important genetic contributors to stroke risk. These findings will help doctors better understand stroke risk, identify those at high risk and prevent the debilitating condition.

“Given the undue burden that people of African ancestry endure from stroke and other cerebrovascular disease, the lack of investigation of risk factors in this group has been a substantial gap,” said researcher Bradford B. Worrall, MD, a neurologist at University of Virginia (UVA) Health System, United States of America (USA). “Our work is an important step toward filling that gap, albeit with much more work to be done. These findings will provide greater insight into ethnic-specific and global risk factors to reduce the second leading cause of death worldwide.”

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. But strokes strike African-Americans more often and at younger ages than people of European descent. In addition, African-Americans who survive strokes often face greater disability. Family history is a major risk factor for stroke, suggesting our genes play a significant role in our stroke risk. But most genetic stroke studies, until now, have primarily focused on people of European descent. And the results have not always held true in African-Americans.

The new meta-analysis comes from the Consortium of Minority Population genome-wide Association Studies of Stroke (COMPASS). The researchers revisited previous studies to identify genetic risk factors specific to people of African descent. In total, they examined the genomes of 3,734 people who had suffered strokes and more than 18,000 who had not.

The researchers discovered that a common variation near the HNF1A gene was strongly associated with increased stroke risk in those of African ancestry. The gene previously has been associated to both stroke and cardiovascular disease.

While that variant had the strongest link to stroke risk, the researchers identified 29 other variants that also appear likely to influence stroke risk.

The variants occur at 24 different locations on human chromosomes. Sixteen of the “loci,” as the locations are known, appeared also to influence stroke risk in other populations, the researchers report.

“Studies of this nature are critical given the paucity of genetic studies focused on people of African descent and other minority populations and the substantial health disparities related to stroke in these groups,” said Keith Keene, PhD, a former UVA researcher and frequent collaborator of Worrall’s who now leads the Center for Health Disparities at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine.
“Furthermore, we increasingly recognize the power of looking at genetic risk factors across different race ethnic groups, known as trans-ethnic analyses, for unlocking the underlying biology of diseases like stroke. If we understand the biology, we can develop new treatment and prevention strategies.”

In a paper outlining their findings, the researchers note the importance of such studies in understanding stroke risk among minorities. These studies have “huge potential to provide insight into the mechanisms underlying stroke disparities,” the researchers write. “Our study identified novel associations for stroke that might not otherwise be detected in primarily European cohort studies. Collectively, this highlights the critical nature and importance of genetic studies in a more diverse population with a high stroke burden.”

New research has identified a possible mechanism for blood clotting issues in some COVID-19 patients.

A new study suggests a possible mechanism for the elevated presence of blood clots in COVID-19 patients.

The research, published in the journal Circulation, may help clinicians develop more effective treatments for COVID-19.

The sudden emergence and rapid global spread of the new coronavirus have meant clinical responses have focused on supporting those with severe infections, supplemented with emergency societal interventions, such as widespread social distancing, to reduce infection rates.

Because SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, previous treatments developed for similar strains will not necessarily work. Instead, possible therapies need to be identified in theory, tested and, once safe, implemented in the real world. However, this all takes time.

SARS-CoV-2 is mainly a danger because for some patients — particularly those with certain underlying health conditions, compromised immune systems, or who are later in life — a type of severe acute respiratory syndrome can develop, similar to pneumonia.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, makes a person’s lungs inflamed.

COVID-19 and coagulation

According to an interview in The Guardian with Prof. John Wilson, president-elect of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, if this inflammation is severe, inflammatory material can collect in the bottom of a person’s lungs. This can make it difficult for them to gain enough oxygen into their blood, cause organs to shut down, and potentially lead to death.

However, in addition to this pneumonia-like reaction, clinicians have also noticed that patients with COVID-19 can develop organ damage in a way not directly linked to a lack of oxygen in the blood. This is particularly common in the kidneys and heart.

There is some evidence that a problem with blood coagulation causes this organ damage. Coagulation is the process where a person’s blood thickens. It is crucial in stopping a person from bleeding if they get a cut.

However, if a person’s blood coagulates too much or too little, they can have serious issues: too little, and they can develop internal or external bleeding, as seen in hemophilia. Too much and they could develop blood clots that can cause a stroke or heart attack.

The authors of the recent study note that COVID-19 may increase coagulation in some people’s blood, which consequently causes organ damage as blood vessels become blocked. However, it is not yet clear how or why this occurs, which impedes the development of effective treatments.

Neutrophils and platelets

In the study, the researchers studied 62 patients, including autopsies on five of whom had died. Of these individuals, 38 had confirmed COVID-19.

After conducting multidimensional flow cytometry — a way of measuring the presence of particular cells in a fluid — and comparing these results to the control groups, the researchers identified a significant number of neutrophils and platelets in the subjects.

Neutrophils are a type of immune cell that combat pathogens entering the body, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus, while platelets are a type of blood cell necessary for coagulation.

The researchers found that these two cells seemed to react to and activate one another, resulting in excessive coagulation, blockage of blood vessels, and serious damage to nearby tissue.

Furthermore, when activated, the neutrophils exude web-like structures designed to help them trap bacteria, but experts believe they exacerbate the blocking of blood vessels.

According to Dr. Konstantin Stark, of the University Hospital Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich, Germany, and a co-author of the paper:

“These findings contribute to a better understanding of the pathophysiology that underlie disease progression in COVID-19. The study also identifies immunothrombosis as a promising target for the prevention and treatment of lung failure and thrombotic complications that arise in cases of COVID 19.”

A review suggests smoking and vaping could increase the severity of COVID-19 due to blood vessel damage and a higher risk of stroke.

“There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that, as well as the respiratory symptoms of COVID-19, the disease can also cause, among others, neurological effects.”

A recent report from a neurological hospital in the United Kingdom identifies cases of delirium, brain inflammation, nerve damage, and stroke in COVID-19 patients.

Reports of stroke in COVID-19 are particularly prevalent. Some reports estimate that 30% of critically ill COVID-19 patients experience blood clots. And if they occur in the brain, they may trigger a stroke.

Researchers from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center previously found that smoking and vaping increases the risk of viral infection. They have now published a review on how these activities might affect the risk of neurological dysfunction in COVID-19, particularly from damage to blood vessels in the brain.

They found that both smoking and vaping could increase the risk of stroke in COVID-19 due to damage to the blood-brain barrier and a higher risk of blood clots.

The details are published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

Higher risk of blood clots

Smoking causes well-known damage to the lungs and respiratory system. Previous research has shown that it also makes a person more vulnerable to influenza.

Smoking can also affect the vascular system in the brain, prompting the researchers to review the evidence on how this activity might influence the neurological symptoms of people who contract COVID-19.

They first looked at the evidence on SARS-CoV-2 and neurological disorders, including stroke. They found one study which showed that 36.4% of COVID-19 patients had neurological symptoms. Another paper found five cases of sudden stroke in COVID-19 patients aged 30–40 years due to abnormal blood clotting in their large arteries.

But how does this relate to smoking? The researchers explain that when the body is deprived of oxygen, which occurs with smoking, the amount of clotting factors in the blood increase.

In combination with COVID-19, which also increases blood-clotting proteins, the risk of stroke rises.

“COVID-19 seems to have this ability to increase the risk for blood coagulation, as does smoke. This may ultimately translate in higher risk for stroke.” – Luca Cucullo, Ph.D., Center for Blood-Brain Barrier Research, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

What about vaping?

Although there is less evidence around vaping, the authors found studies that show vape aerosol components can harm blood vessels in the brain.

Vaping also appears to affect the blood-brain barrier, the defensive structure which protects the brain from toxins and pathogens in the blood.

The researchers also found specific evidence that long-term vaping may increase the risk of stroke.

Vaping may also make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19 by increasing the number of ACE2 receptors expressed in the body, which are used by the novel coronavirus to infect cells. Smoking can also increase expression of the ACE2 receptor, and damages the blood-brain barrier.

More research needed

The authors conclude that smoking and vaping may increase the severity of COVID-19 by increasing expression of the ACE2 receptor, which allows the virus to infect more cells. They were also found to damage the blood-brain barrier, which increases the risk of neurological complications.

There is an elevated risk of stroke in COVID-19 patients who smoke due to increased blood clotting factors in the blood.

However, the authors say more research is needed, including comparisons of autopsy samples from COVID-19 patients who did or did not smoke, and further animal studies.