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Statins for Fibroids?

New research suggests that statin drugs commonly prescribed to lower high cholesterol levels may do double duty in women with benign fibroid tumors of the uterus. Fibroids, the most common tumors in the female reproductive system, account for half the annual hysterectomies in the U.S. Earlier research has shown that statins have anti-tumor effects on breast, ovarian, prostate, and lung cancers, but until recently, their effect on fibroids was unknown, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston said. They collaborated on the investigation with teams from Baylor College of Medicine, the Georgia Regents University and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Their study in laboratory tissue cultures showed that the statin simvastatin blocks the growth of fibroid tumor cells and also promotes calcium-dependent cell death mechanisms in the tumor cells themselves. More research is needed before we know whether or not treatment with statins can elicit positive effects in fibroid tumors in women, but studies in animals are currently underway.

Trying to Lose Weight? Read This

Eating out too often can interfere with your diet, lead to weight gain and an unhealthy boost in your cholesterol levels. This finding, from a study at Queens College in New York City, doesn't come as a big surprise since restaurant meals are often high in calories and fat, and the portion sizes are much larger than you might serve yourself at home. Between 2005 and 2010 the researchers collected information from more than 8,300 adults. Their analysis of this data showed that individuals who ate six or more meals a week away from home had a higher body mass index, lower levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and lower blood concentrations of vitamins C and E. While the researchers found that men eat more meals in restaurants than women, the negative effects of too many restaurant meals hit women harder, and were also more marked in individuals older than age 50. The study team reported that men who ate meals in restaurants frequently were in their 20s and 30s and had college degrees and higher incomes than occasional restaurant patrons. Nutritionists not involved with the study were quoted in news reports as saying that some restaurant portion sizes often have three to four servings-worth of calories.

Sitting Too Much? Do This.

Spending the workday sitting can lead to higher cholesterol levels and greater waist circumference, both well-known risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Researchers at Indiana University have found that simply taking a five-minute walk can help maintain the healthy function of leg arteries that could otherwise be compromised during hours of sitting. First, the team showed that even one hour of sitting can slow blood flow to the main artery in the legs by as much as 50 percent. That didn’t happen when study participants stood up and walked for five minutes for each hour of sitting, a positive change that the researchers attributed to an increase in muscle activity and blood flow during the walks. The 11 study participants were non-obese healthy men ages 20 through 35. To begin the investigation, they sat for three hours straight without moving their legs. The researchers used a blood pressure cuff and ultrasound to check the functionality of the femoral artery when the men first sat down and at the one-, two- and three-hour marks. Then, the men sat for another three-hour period, but every hour took a five-minute break to walk on a treadmill at two miles per hour. When the researchers tested the men while they were seated after their walks, they found that the arterial function wasn't altered or decreased.

My take? This study of this simple lifestyle intervention is good news for the millions of Americans who spend the working day seated. Getting up and walking for five minutes per hour is a healthy practice and walking at the rate of two miles per hour is no hardship. Other strategies that have been suggested to overcome the health hazards of too much sitting include the use of adjustable height desks so you can spend at least part of the day on your feet, and using a treadmill desk that allows you to walk at a slow, steady pace (less than two miles per hour) on a moving belt while you work at a desk that straddles the machine. I'm in favor of anything that increases the motivation or opportunity to move regularly.

Saurabh Thosar et al, "Effect of Prolonged Sitting and Breaks in Sitting Time on Endothelial Function," Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 18, 2014, Epub ahead of print

Beans for Bad Cholesterol

How often do you eat lentils, kidney beans, hummus (made with chickpeas) or split pea soup? These are all examples of “pulses” or foods based upon them. Each pulse is part of the legume family, but the term refers only to dried, low-fat seeds, so it excludes both fresh beans and fatty seeds such as peanuts.

New research from Canada shows that one ¾ cup daily serving of pulses could lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by as much as five percent. And that drop would result in a five to six percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to study leader John Sievenpiper, M.D., Ph.D. Unfortunately, the average consumption of pulses is only about a half serving per day in the U.S. and Canada, the team reported. To reach their conclusion, the investigators reviewed 26 randomized controlled trials that gathered data on 1,037 people. They found that adding pulses to the diet benefitted men more than women, possibly because their cholesterol levels were generally higher and their diets poorer. The researchers found that participants in some of the studies they analyzed complained of bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation when they first added pulses to their diets, but the symptoms subsided over the course of the study.

My take? There are many important advantages to adding pulses to your diet. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber; are enjoyable additions to meals if prepared properly; and are among the most inexpensive foods you can buy - the ultimate refutation of the notion that "you have to be rich to eat healthy." Legumes are also heart-healthy; their high fiber content lowers cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels. A study of more than 15,000 middle-aged men across the U.S., Europe and Japan for 25 years found the consumption of legumes was associated with an 82 percent reduction in risk of death from heart disease. Most varieties of beans and lentils are also high in folate, a vitamin that helps prevent the build-up of the amino acid homocysteine - elevated levels of which are a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Whether you enjoy pluses as dips and spreads like hummus, paired with nutritious whole grains such as the ever-popular beans and rice, or merely to bulk up soups, stews and salads, they deserve a prominent place in your anti-inflammatory kitchen!

Eating Anti-Inflammatory Made Simple
Take the guesswork out of a healthful diet with Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging. Our shopping and eating guides, over 300 recipes, tips and videos follow Dr. Weil's recommended anti-inflammatory principles for promoting better health, from head to toe. See what it's about - start your free trial today and save 30% when you join!

John L. Sievenpiper et al, “Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials,” CMAJ, 2014 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.131727

Statins, Cholesterol, and Heart Health (Video)

Statins are used for doing one thing in the body: to lower LDL cholesterol. However, as Dr. Weil discusses, many doctors prescribe statins but do not go beyond medication as a form of treatment and fail to discuss the benefits of healthy eating, exercise, stress-reduction and other healthful routes. Watch as Dr. Weil talks about how statins affect cholesterol and heart health, as well as where he believes statins will be in the future in our society.

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Vitamin D and Women’s Cholesterol

Here’s more good news about vitamin D: it seems to help lower LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol, in post-menopausal women. The reduction isn’t huge, but it is significant, according to study leader Peter F. Schnatz, a professor of internal medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. The 576 women who participated in the study were randomly assigned to receive either a supplement containing 400 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily or a placebo. After three years, the women taking the supplement had higher blood levels of vitamin D and lower LDL than they had at the study’s start. In analyzing the results, the researchers controlled for the women’s vitamin D level when the study began, as well as smoking, alcohol consumption and more than 20 other variables. Because of the study’s small size, the researchers said no conclusions could be drawn about the effect of vitamin D on heart health, but they noted that among the women who took the calcium/vitamin D supplement, those whose vitamin D levels were higher also had high levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol, as well as lower triglyceride levels.

Peter F. Schnatz et al, “Calcium/vitamin D supplementation, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations, and cholesterol profiles in the Women’s Health Initiative calcium/vitamin D randomized trial.” Menopause, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000188

Eat Fish, Improve Cholesterol

Researchers in Finland have found that eating salmon and other oily fish three or four times a week positively changes HDL, the “good” cholesterol that protects against heart disease. Eating lots of oily fish is associated with increased numbers of larger-sized HDL particles. That’s a desirable change, since large HDL particles are the most effective at sweeping up deposits of cholesterol that build up on artery walls and raise the risk of heart attack. The study participants ate fatty fish such as salmon, rainbow trout and herring prepared without butter or cream. The study didn’t reveal whether participants who ate low-fat fish had similar benefits, but the researchers noted that other studies have suggested that eating low-fat fish can help control blood pressure.

My take? This study gives us new insight into how eating oily fish affects HDL and benefits health, and it confirms that to get those benefits you have to eat fish frequently – three or four times a week. Epidemiology shows us that populations eating fish regularly have increased longevity and experience less chronic disease than populations that do not include fish as part of their traditional diets. Fish provides high-quality protein without the saturated fat present in meat and poultry. Wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and bluefish are all rich in the omega-3 fatty acids needed for optimum health.

Eating Anti-Inflammatory Made Simple
Take the guesswork out of a healthful diet with Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging. Our shopping and eating guides, over 300 recipes, tips and videos follow Dr. Weil's recommended anti-inflammatory principles for promoting better health, from head to toe. See what it's about - start your free trial today and save 30% when you join!

Maria Lankinen et al “Effects of Whole Grain, Fish and Bilberries on Serum Metabolic Profile and Lipid Transfer Protein Activities: A Randomized Trial (Sysdimet)”, PLOS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090352

Is Bad Cholesterol Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease?

Here’s another potential reason to watch your cholesterol levels. New research from the University of California, Davis, suggests that the cholesterol levels often associated with cardiovascular disease may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease as well. For the study, investigators measured the blood lipid levels of 74 seniors with normal to mildly impaired cognitive function. They also measured deposits of beta amyloid protein in their subjects’ brains with PET (positron emission tomography) scans and found that participants with higher levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol had higher levels of Alzheimer’s-related amyloid in the brain. High levels of LDL cholesterol have been considered a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease while high levels of HDL cholesterol are believed to protect the heart. Some earlier studies have suggested that drugs that lower LDL might protect against Alzheimer’s but results have been inconsistent. In the new study, no links were seen between amyloid levels and the use of cholesterol-lowering medication. The researchers wrote that the study doesn’t prove that cholesterol levels in the blood directly affect deposition of amyloid proteins. They suggested that high LDL levels could be predictive of vascular damage from small strokes that might play a part in amyloid deposition. In other words, high LDL could be an effect, rather than a cause, of another process that raises stroke risk. They concluded that their findings should be replicated in other studies to confirm the association between Alzheimer's and cholesterol.

Bruce Reed et al, “Associations between Serum Cholesterol Levels and Cerebral Amyloidosis,” JAMA Neurology, doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.5390

Empowering Your HDL

High density lipoprotein or HDL is commonly known as “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol away from blood vessels so it can’t contribute to the formation of blockages leading to heart attack. HDL also acts as an antioxidant and reduces inflammation, but just having high blood levels of HDL may not be enough. Researchers at UCLA noted that even at desirable levels, HDL may not work well in men who don’t exercise, whether or not they’re overweight, increasing the risk of heart disease. To test this, the team recruited 90 men ages 18 to 30 who exercised regularly and divided them into three groups: lean men who weight-trained at least four times per week, overweight men who did the same, and overweight men who had no structured exercise routine. The investigators checked the men’s muscle strength and carotid artery thickness (a sign of heart disease) and analyzed blood samples for various heart disease markers including triglycerides, C-reactive protein, and sex hormones. These indexes helped them measure how well HDL was functioning as an antioxidant, a tipoff to how well HDL is working overall. The conclusion: regular weight training seems to improve HDL function and offers protection against heart disease, even in overweight men. This suggests that physical fitness may be the best measure of healthy HDL function and, by extension, the risk of heart disease.

Christian K. Roberts et al, “Untrained Young Men Have Dysfunctional HDL Compared to Strength Trained Men Irrespective of Body Weight Status,” Journal of Applied Physiology. July 25, 2013, doi: 10.​1152/​japplphysiol.​00359.​2013