Heartbreak and Heart Failure

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-2-48-11-pmSometimes life, work and study all seem  to dovetail and everything makes sense for just a few glorious moments. Cardiology was like that for me, in between the Frank Starling curves.

Last year we had a case study of a woman with congestive heart failure (CHF.)  Her husband had renal failure and needed dialysis, and she worked at a job she didnt love. She slowly developed worsening heart failure over the course of the case, with  shortness of breath, edema, high blood pressure, and poor circulation, eventually dying from it. I was impacted by the apathy she displayed in her efforts to recover – unwilling to eat more grains and greens, decrease salt,  get outside, exercise regularly, investigate psychotherapy, or better her personal life in any way. Instead, she just declined in health, adding a new prescription per year to mange her symptoms until she  – drowned. In her grief. Of heart disease.

This. Story. Happens. Every Day.

And not only in the US, or Canada or Europe. World-Wide.

The multitudes of meta-analysis risk factor evaluations like the Framingham, Whitehall and Rekjavic studeis have concretely illustrated important evidence about the facts of heart disease: atherosclerotic fatty streaks in arteries, high blood sugar, and  inflammation are the undeniable Holy Trinity of heart disease. What is not being avidly reported is the rate of divorce, or mood disorders in these same subjects. The sexual dissatisfaction. The childhood trauma. Socioeconomics and race are sometimes studied, and African Americans and Latinos have higher rates of heart disease. Nobody is surprised. Russia has the highest rate of ischemic heart disease in the world, along with some African nations and Indonesia. These countries also have horrible human rights records, with well documented transphobia, homophobia and police brutality.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-01-58-pmIf we are going to turn around heart disease, do we not need to acknowledge the humanity of the heart? The same  epidemiological study quoted deep within the content:

“Additional reports from this study have shown inverse associations between fair and respectful treatment at work and CHD [Congestive Heart Disease],and job control with future CHD risk.

Similarly, hypertension, which is the harbinger of heart disease through its effect on cardiac structure and function,  is hugely mediated by the stress response.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-11-31-pmI was talking to Dr. Stein, an internist specializing in HIV and also our OMS II course director, about this theory that heart failure is so rampant because we have no real medicine for soul-problems like dissatisfaction, grief, sorrow, envy, loneliness and such. He said the links between depression, elevated cortisol, hypertension and CHF are well documented and clearly evidenced.

He reiterated that it is known that People of Color have higher blood pressures because their lives are more stressful due to systemic and personally experienced racism aka “stress.” It is also well evidenced that African Americans with CHF respond better to different medications than other races – Hydralazine, a vasodilator that decreases resistance,  improves survival with  isosorbide dinitrate rather than the ACE inhibitors and Beta Blockers commonly used. Ha, decreasing [systemic institutionalized] resistance as a keystone in improving survival? I need to know more about the MOA of these drugs to understand why decreasing the catecholamines isnt enough for this population; maybe its because of the deleterious and constant push and pull the sympathetic blockers have on the heart receptors of someone living in the actual adrenergic rut of an unsafe society.

3f0a8388-0078-4c4f-88ef-36078365eae5Our cardiologist professor Dr. Glass stated that the average person with hypertension is on 3.4 medications to manage it. These are usually layers of diuretics to decrease the blood volume and drain edema (decreasing preload), and beta blockers to decrease cardiac work and improve cardiac output,  and/or other meds like diphydropyridines and nitrates. But guess what – it just came out recently that hypertensive medications may be CAUSING depression/ mood disorders while working to decrease blood pressure.  What a double whammy.  This was a big study from a database of a single hospital containing 525,046 patients over 5 years. This 2016 article stated:

Major depressive and bipolar disorders predispose to atherosclerosis, and there is accruing data from animal model, epidemiological, and genomic studies that commonly used antihypertensive drugs may have a role in the pathogenesis or course of mood disorders.”

  • Patients on angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers had the lowest risk for mood disorder admissions
  • those on β-blockers (hazard ratio=2.11; [95% confidence interval, 1.12–3.98]; P=0.02) and calcium antagonists (2.28 [95% confidence interval, 1.13–4.58]; P=0.02) showed higher risk
  • those on no antihypertensives (1.63 [95% confidence interval, 0.94–2.82]; P=0.08) and thiazide diuretics (1.56 [95% confidence interval, 0.65–3.73]; P=0.32) showed no significant difference.

To summarize the findings,  calcium antagonists and β-blockers may be associated with increased risk, whereas angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers may be associated with a decreased risk of mood disorders. (Hypertension. 2016;68:1132-1138. DOI: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONA HA.116.08188.)

It appears, the drugs that most directly affect the heart muscle itself are thus linked to more mood disorders, while those that work indirectly and decrease the work for the heart seem to have less impact on mood.

This is such a broad topic and there are so many layers to heart failure – blood pressure, kidney regulation of blood pressure, nutritional effects, blood lipids, blood volume, inflammatory mediators, free radicals and antioxidants, sleep quality and more – but I think that too often we lose sight of some of the most basic truths of happiness and heart health. And we also forget the deeply sensitive creatures that most of us are and fool ourselves that pharmacy could possibly be enough to cure a heart that is systemically broken, or the effects of a chronically hypervigilant nervous system.

imagesWIDJJQD2I am going to need to become proficient at cardiology as an Internal Medicine doc. But without a degree in psychiatry, or soul medicine, or archangel intervention, how can I possibly hope to help people recover their failing hearts when the intersections cut so deep? I am scared of all of those people that have no willingness, or ability, to look deep within and make the simple and profound choices towards life. This is the part of being a physician I most fear. The medical failures; the broken hearts.

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Will Power

I am two weeks into second year medical school, and the majority of our content has been NeuroAnatomy and Brain Diseases. As a physician it is pretty darn important to be able to figure out when someone is having a life threatening stroke impinging on brain tissue,  versus a flare up of a genetic disorder that is starting to show neurological signs and symptoms. Knowing the anatomy of the brainstem, and the arrangement and progression of the long tracts of nerve fibers throughout the spinal cord, medulla, pons, brainstem and beyond can create a Cartesian like diagram where one can fairly accurately isolate the nature and location of the lesion. That is, if you can remember where and how everything goes.

Brainstem_07-02_smallI never quite knew where the medulla was even located, and now I know more than I probably ever will again about the arrangement of nerves, radiations and nuclear cell bodies in its little bulbous body. This tiny part of the body has nerve fibers that do cardiorespiratory regulation, the trigeminal cranial nerve nucleus, tracts, and radiations for face sensation, ascending dorsal column and spinothalamic sensory tracts for the entire body, descending corticospinal and pyramidal motor tracts for the entire body, and some complicated cranial nerve regulating nucleii that coordinate the eyes and hearing. As you go up fun things show up like the olives, and the solitary nucleus and nucleus ambiguous (both associated with the vagus nerve.) And, the tongue. Problems with the tongue can be from a medullary lesion including slurred speech and not being able to stick your tongue out at someone very effectively, because it points wiggly off to the side the damage has occurred. There is probably more things in this tiny medulla oblongata, but I cant remember them right now.

Starting back into school is also an exercise in letting go. I am fairly certain this is a cerebral condition, and not a brainstem function.  Letting go of free time, of relaxation, of life without an alarm clock. It takes a lot of will power to focus for so many hours at a time. I personally also find myself needing to cut back on alcohol, Netflicks and social time with the advent of academics.  I have been having a lot of conversations about this topic of will power lately, as in, do I have enough, or am I lacking? I have such restricted foods from all of my food sensitivities that I feel like I have pretty good will power overall but maybe, just maybe I could work on a higher level control of some of my more primitive impulses (stay tuned for amydala updates next week.)

untitledBack to the topic of stroke. And willpower. Smoking is a huge risk for stroke, especially intraparenchymal stroke. 45% of people die within the first 30 days of having a stroke. Why? Because the brain is special. And when you put pressure on it, by adding more fluid (blood) into a closed small area (the skull, or calverium as I love calling it) then, the brain tissue simply LIQIUIFIES in an effort to make more room. Disgusting right?! When your brain liquefies, you get signs and symptoms associated with damage in that place – if you hit a small area and just nerves and radiations of nerves, your body can often recover loss of sensation or muscular weakness on one side of your body. When you hit a nerve nucleus, like the facial nerve cell body nuclei, you probably wont recover those functions because the cells themselves are dead.

Apparently I still need to learn more about strokes, especially the ones that can kill you. What I do know, is high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking are huge risk factors for stroke, and those are all related to will power. So, you do have a choice, like I do, about how to live on a day to day basis. I am choosing to decrease my daily alcohol content to improve my studying. What will your choice be?

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Mediterranean Diet Explained

mediterranean_map-bigThe Mediterranean Diet (and Lifestyle)

This post was originally written for Apothecary by Design.

There is a lot of conflicting opinions about what style of diet individuals should choose for best health. Eating patterns can be based on ethics, habits, familial patterns, disease states, weight loss, convenience and more. The Mediterranean Diet is specifically known to correct heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It is also used in cancer recovery. It is not a prescribed regimen of foods, but rather a way of eating based on the local foods of indigenous cultures that live around the Mediterranean Sea. People from this region tend to live longer, and have less chronic disease and obesity than the rest of Europe and North America. To understand why, scientists looked at the foods and lifestyle of the region which has been proven time and time again as superior for cardiovascular health and wellness.

Introduction: It is estimated that over 600 million people have high blood pressure. Heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and dietary interventions are first line therapies for prevention and treatment. The Mediterranean Diet, so called because it mimics classic eating patterns and ingredients from countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, has proven itself time and again as an effective therapy for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. A quick search of Medscape will show you that other conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, Weight loss, Alzheimer’s disease, Metabolic Syndrome, and Cancer are also being improved by adherence to this style of eating.

What it entails: The Mediterranean Diet is modeled after a traditional European “local” diet. Think small servings of homemade pasta or polenta, with fresh local herbs and vegetables like rosemary, basil, tomato, fennel, mushrooms and onions sautéed in liberal amounts of extra virgin olive oil. Add some white beans or fresh local cheese and handfuls of fresh arugula. Small fish like sardines and anchovies are added to meals regularly or served as a snack with walnuts, flatbread and cut up raw vegetables like cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, and broccoli. Fish is a regular staple, always cooked with olive oil and often marinated with lemon and fresh herbs. A couple times a week you may have free range eggs or chicken, again with liberal amounts of greens, cooked vegetables, beans and fresh herbs. And steak or lamb is eaten a couple times a month. Red wine is served with dinner most nights, and small amounts of homemade dessert like tiramisu or gelato a couple times a month.

2ac47164217c3a2b12eadd7a62b6ee78Many people use a triangle to depict the major Food groups for the Mediterranean diet.

Grains and pastas while frowned on by the low-carb crowd, are important for feeling full, serotonin production, daily fiber and vitamins and minerals. They are also essential for T3 thyroid hormone production. Grains are commonly used in their whole form for optimal nutrition although some homemade pasta and bread are implemented. Suggested Mediterranean grains include barley, buckwheat, bulgur, cous cous, farro, millet, polenta, rice, and wheat berries. Whole grain salads and porridges are great ways to have a daily grain in your menu. Portion sizes are conservative, with emphasis on the vegetable and olive oil.

Vegetables are an important staple in the eating patterns of all countries bordering on the Mediterranean, providing essential plant nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Cook with virgin olive oil, and drizzle whole pressed plant oils on raw vegetables. These plant nutrients and plant oils are thought to be the foundation of the beneficial effect from this way of eating as they provide essential fats and omegas daily. Commonly used vegetables include: artichokes, arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, celeriac, cucumber, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, greens of all kinds including collard, kale, Swiss chard and more, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mache, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, peppers, potato, pumpkin, radish, rutabaga, scallion, spinach, turnips, yams and zucchini.

Whole fresh fruit provides sweetness and important nutrients, with juicy sweetness. Include apples, apricots, avocado, cherries, clementines, dates, figs, grapefruit, pomegranate, strawberries and tomatoes. Avoid juices, jams, and jellies as these are high in sugar without the antioxidants and fiber of whole fruit.

imagesNuts and Seeds are another key to the healthful oils that improve cardiovascular health. One study added only walnuts to a standard diet and exhibited cardiac disease improvement just from the omega 3 fats naturally contained in these nuts. Twenty raw almonds daily have also been suggested as a natural way to lower blood pressure. All raw nuts and seeds and raw nut butters except peanuts contain beneficial oils and add richness and flavor to vegetable based dishes. Once you “dry roast” or roast the nuts and seeds, the beneficial oils are lost or made into inflammatory trans-fats. If you prefer the taste, buy raw nuts and toast them yourself in a cast iron pan or a low heat oven for 10-20 minutes. You can add spices, soy sauce or honey before toasting for additional delicious taste!

Beans and Legumes are great source of protein and fiber and have a rich creamy texture. Cook with cannellini beans, chickpeas, fava beans, and green beans. Kidney beans, lentils, and split peas are also common ingredients in Mediterranean meals. Legumes provide a protein rich flavor note and nutritional support; in moderate amounts they are less likely to cause digestive upset. Think: brothy bowls of rich soup, light summer salads with olive oil and beans, or a Spanish fabada with pork and sausage. Use a digestive enzyme if needed to improve digestion and reduce side effects.

indexFish and seafood are prominent in the way of eating as it is based around sea cultures. Fish and shellfish are incorporated almost daily, providing high amounts of omega three fats essential for heart health. Little fishes like sardines, anchovies and mackerels are cheap and abundant and very high in omega 3 oils. Next time you are at a grocery store, pick up a tin of boneless, skinless sardines. Try eating them with crackers and sour cream, or top a nicoise-style salad with them (potatoes, olives and arugula.) They are quite delicious! Bigger fish like tuna, salmon and sea bass are featured regularly, as well as all shellfish, octopus and eel varieties. Fish and seafood are rarely battered and friend. They are often grilled, baked, steamed or pan-fried with olive oil.

Eggs, dairy, meats, wine and sweets are also part of this way of life, but in modest amounts, For example, cheese and yogurt may be eaten daily as tatziki yogurt dip, manchego , romano or feta; you do not see the consumption of large amount of industrialized cheese like a Domino’s pizza. Red meat is enjoyed every couple weeks as are cured meats like salami, carpaccio or prosciutto – used sparingly on homemade pizzas with a cheese like ricotta, or served antipasti with olives and vegetables.

As you can see, there is great diversity in this way of eating. There are no “bad” foods and “good” foods, but there is a plethora of vegetarian and pescatarian eating that results in high vitamin C, E and selenium, high levels of glutathione, balanced omega 6 and 3 oils, high fiber, and abundant antioxidants from fruits and vegetables including resveratrol from red wine and polyphenols from olive oil. These are the basic foundations of a heart healthy diet that any nutritionist or integrative doctor will recommend!

Henri-Lebasque-The-SiestaLongevity Lifestyle: There is more than just food to the Mediterranean success though. Lifestyle is almost equally as important for the longevity and happiness that contributes to this regions wellness. Meals are enjoyed in a social atmosphere, contributing to slower eating and improved digestion. Naps in the form of “siestas” are built into the regions lifestyle, allowing valuable down time and relaxation as well as sleep! Movement, in the form of daily walking and gardening, is an inherent part of an active lifestyle that also improves cardiovascular fitness. And finally, there is a strong sense of community, often centered around religion, which fulfills the esoteric or spiritual needs at an individual level.

Implementing Changes: The biggest hurdle to changing your nutrition is what you put in your grocery cart. As long as you have frozen meals and industrial cheese in your cupboards, that is what you and your family will eat. Start by purchasing olive oil, fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, and whole grains, and planning simple meals like soups and salads. Scope out your local Italian grocery store like Micucci’s in Portland, and go to the farmers market and fish market for inspiration.  Classic Italian, Spanish, Middle Eastern or Greek cookbooks or cooking classes can provide inspiration; however, this is inherently a simple style of eating. Some convenience may be lost as you cook a cannellini bean soup, but the preparation time can be made up by the abundance of delicious, easy leftovers and lunches. Enjoy your preparation time with music and a glass of wine and have your kids help – community and relaxed eating environments are two of the secrets to happiness! Get inspired by these simple recipes.

olive-oils-williams-sonoma-cooking-technique-classes-aug-2014A note on olive oil. Americans spend about 700 million dollars on olive oil per year. Low grade olive oil is rampant, and many cheap versions are cut with soybean oil or other inferior vegetable oils. Products branded as Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) are often not extra virgin (first press) and often not 100% olive. Choosing organic olive oil is a higher price, but ensures the quality and manufacturing guaranteed by organic standards. There are no regulations in place for non-organic oils at the moment. Using liberal amounts of soybean oil or other low grade, low quality oils, especially when stored in plastic, will NOT have the same beneficial properties like polyphenol antioxidants that real olive oil has. When I was recently in Spain, a good quality bottle of organic olive oil was about 15-20 Euros. I saw the same bottle of organic Spanish oil that I brought home from Spain in Williams-Sonoma this past weekend for $25 US. This is about the price that a liter or more of high quality extra virgin olive oil goes for (unless you find some on sale.) If you are paying significantly less, you are probably getting adulterated oils.

Consider shopping at an olive oil specialty store that lets you taste before you buy ~ Le Roux in Portland, Maine offers this option plus delicious balsamic vinegars to pair it with! Buying olive oil in larger amounts, like the metal cans sold at Italian grocery stores, often allows for improved quality and a lower volume price. Transfer some of the oil into a smaller table-friendly vessel for cooking and dressing raw greens! Read More about Olive Oil’s dark side.

References:

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/502409_5

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24050803

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/504600

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/750564#vp_2

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/785895#vp_2

http://oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-diet-pyramid/traditional-med-diet

http://www.ciaprochef.com/northarvest/mediterranean.html

http://www.today.com/health/live-100-sardinias-secrets-longevity-blue-zones-2D80590693

https://www.bluezones.com/

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