“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.
Several health articles recently caught my attention that I’d like to pass on to Post readers.
I’m a carnivore. I like to eat meat. A thick, juicy steak grilled medium rare is a great treat. Even an occasional hot dog tastes pretty good. But are they good for me? Apparently not.
An analysis of 13 published articles comprising almost a million-and-a-half individuals found that higher consumption of any kind of unprocessed red meat was associated with a nine percent relative risk of coronary heart disease per 50 grams/day. What that means is eating a steak about 2/3 the size of a pack of cards or 2/3 of a quarter-pound beef burger increases my risk of having a heart attack, and the risk doubles if I eat that amount in the form of processed meat. Eating poultry was associated with no increased risk and eating fish appears to reduce the risk.
The risk with red meat may be because both unprocessed and processed red meat contain higher amounts of saturated fat than poultry, which would increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis (cholesterol build up in the coronary arteries) via an increase in levels of inflammation and the “bad” LDL cholesterol. Coronary heart disease caused over nine million deaths in 2016, so the increase is significant.
I’ve stressed in the past the importance of adhering as much as possible to the principles of the Mediterranean diet that restricts protein sources to chicken, fish, and legumes, along with eating nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Because regular fish consumption reduces the risk of major cardiovascular complications and mortality I’ve got to re-channel my desire for an aged steak to fresh fish instead.
As I’ve gotten older, short sleep segments of two to four hours often have replaced those wonderful uninterrupted eight hours of sleep I used to enjoy. Poor sleep patterns are associated with a variety of health risks. A recent study showed that sleep deprivation in healthy individuals was associated with a mean arterial blood pressure elevation of almost four mmHg, impacting women more than men. Importantly, blood pressure returned to baseline once normal sleep patterns resumed, so the effect was reversible, at least over a short time period. The takeaway: get enough quality sleep regardless of your daily demands.
Anyone who has read my columns knows I am very unenthusiastic about almost all dietary supplements because of harm and/or lack of proven benefit. A recent study of sports and weight loss supplements containing deterenol (a stimulant acting like adrenaline but banned in most countries because of the risk sudden death) validates my position. Seventeen brands of such dietary supplements also contained nine prohibited stimulants and eight different mixtures of stimulants, with as many as four experimental stimulants per product. Because these stimulants have never been tested in humans, their safety is unknown, and supplements containing deterenol should be avoided.
Life appears very stressful at present due to multiple factors such as the impact of climate change, fires and floods, political unrest, and the COVID pandemic, to name just a few. But I am reminded of what is called the Serenity Prayer, written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
We need to change those things we can control, such as diet, sleep, and dietary supplements, noted above; accept many things we cannot control such as the weather; and influence some things we can, such as politics by voting.
The most important thing you can control is getting vaccinated. We can put an end to the COVID pandemic, especially the highly infective Delta variant that has reduced overall life expectancy and increased the rate of COVID viral infections in every state.
The COVID vaccines are effective, with few infection breakthroughs. The benefits far, far outweigh potential side effects. One such rare complication, heart inflammation, generally resolves in a short time without treatment. Getting the infection can be much worse. More than 99 percent of COVID deaths occur in unvaccinated people.
The anti-vaxxers are wrong, so wrong. Do not believe their bogus claims of misinformation, such as the vaccine adversely affecting male potency. It does not. A recent study showed the vaccine caused no reduction in sperm count.
If we follow the advice in the Serenity Prayer, the pandemic is something we can change to save lives, our own and others, by getting vaccinated. Do it today!
Featured image: Margaret M Stewart / Shutterstock
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