“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive.
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Getting a proper amount of sleep is important for maintaining good health. I sometimes have trouble sleeping, probably from that second glass of red wine at dinner and coffee afterwards. I usually fall asleep rapidly and then wake up three hours later and toss and turn, eventually falling back to sleep. My sleep pattern is not a healthy one, as recent evidence indicates.
In a study of 385,292 adult men and women initially free of cardiovascular disease in the United Kingdom, people whose sleep pattern was characterized by five factors below had about a third less risk of heart disease and stroke compared to those who reported none or only one of these healthy sleep patterns:
1) being a “morning person”
2) sleeping 7-8 hours per day
3) never or rarely experiencing insomnia
4) not snoring
5) not experiencing frequent excessive daytime sleepiness
Healthy sleep behavior even reduced the risk of a genetic predisposition to heart disease for participants in this study. The conclusions have limitations, being based on an observational study, but do emphasize the importance of a good night’s sleep.
To ensure better sleep, experts recommend sleeping in a quiet, cool, dark room; increasing bright light exposure during the day and reducing blue light exposure at night; preparing to wake and sleep at consistent times; avoiding caffeine and late-night dinners; and limiting duration of daytime naps and alcohol exposure. I may have to forgo that second glass of red and espresso.
But I may be able to reduce my risk of heart disease by eating chili peppers with my dinner.
Chili peppers are a usual part of the Mediterranean diet but may be more important than previously considered. In a study of almost 23,000 men and women, regular consumption of chili peppers was associated with a lower risk of total death and death from heart disease independent of cardiovascular risk factors or adherence to a Mediterranean diet. The benefits of eating chili peppers have been ascribed to an ingredient called capsaicin, its major pungent compound. Capsaicin can improve cardiovascular function and metabolic regulation and exert anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, but the exact beneficial action remains unknown, and none of the biological mechanisms tested could explain the health benefits in this study. However, it is not unusual in medicine for the benefits of a substance to precede understanding how it works. For example, the health benefits of penicillin were known long before we understood how it killed bacteria.
Speaking of heart disease, the holiday season increases the risk of heart attack, perhaps by overindulgence of food and drink. I was surprised to learn recently that half of the individuals in the U.S. were unaware of the constellation of common signs and symptoms caused by a heart attack, and nearly six percent were unaware of any one of the symptoms. That is unfortunate, because prompt recognition is critical to seeking emergency care that can be lifesaving. Delay in seeking medical help increases the risk of dying.
So, remember the big five:
1) chest pain or discomfort
2) shortness of breath
3) pain or discomfort in arms or shoulders
4) feeling weak, lightheaded, or faint
5) jaw, neck, or back pain.
If you experience any of them, call 911 and seek medical aid promptly.
As we enter the new year, don’t forget: moderation in all things, including moderation.
My best to all our readers for a great holiday season and 2020.
Featured image: Shutterstock
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