Why Butter Is Best

April 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition


I have bored people frequently by going on about why they should eat butter, the natural product, and not margarine which is a fascinating compound of colours and chemicals. Now the Kiwis are backing me up with a new piece of research from the University of Auckland.

Margarine can affect your intelligence, and it starts early as children who ate margarine every day had significantly lower IQ scores by the age of three-and-a-half than those who did not. Even more interestingly, those children who were underweight at birth had scores that were even lower by the time they were seven. The problem here is that the vegetable oils used in most margarine are hydrogenated to make them solid which is what turns them into the dangerously unhealthy trans-fatty acids.

If they can affect children in this way you can be sure that adults are affected just as badly, particularly when it comes to heart disease. This is because of the way that trans fats can raise LDL – the bad cholesterol – and lower HDL -the good cholesterol (HDL) and have been linked to inflammation, which is one of the major causes of heart disease.

If heart disease is a concern, then another piece of research to encourage you off margarine – particularly for men – comes from the respected Framingham Heart Study carried out in the US. Over a 20 year period they tracked and recorded the number of heart attacks and found that as margarine consumption increased, heart attacks went up. As butter consumption increased, heart attacks declined.

In the latter part of the study, over the final ten years they found that the group eating the most margarine had 77% more heart attacks than the group eating none.

Why is butter better? It contains short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which are easily converted to energy so that the fat in butter is less likely to be stored as fat in your body. It contains heart healthy vitamins A and E (in fact it has more vitamin A than carrots) and the essential mineral selenium, all of which protect your heart from free radical damage. Oh, and it tastes much better too.

Fruit Juice Can Replace Low Dose Aspirin for Heart Health

March 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Health


Personally the daily use of low dose aspirin as a preventive for heart health has never really convinced me, and recent reports back that up. Researcher F. Gerald R. Fowkes, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh has found that “aspirin appears to have ‘marginal benefits’ for reducing initial cardiovascular events when used for patients without clinically evident CVD and is associated with higher rates of bleeding events in these patients” . There has been research showing that aspirin has some value in secondary prevention, but if you are looking for a natural alternative to reduce the risk of dangerous blood clots, I have some news for you.

The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has revealed that Fruitflow, the tomato extract and active ingredient in Sirco™ fruit juice, is of proven benefit for healthy blood flow and effectively promotes heart health. It has several benefits of low dose aspirin as a natural alternative to thinning the blood, without side effects. For healthy blood flow you need to maintain normal platelet aggregation, because if they become ‘spiky’, they are much more likely to clump together, forming clots, which can cause high blood pressure, thrombosis, strokes and heart attacks.

Fruitflow, like aspirin, works by dampening signals that cause platelets to become spiky (platelet aggregation), preventing clots forming without the associated side effects of aspirin such as internal bleeding. An ongoing trial at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition & Health, part of the University of Aberdeen, is comparing the effects of both Fruitflow® and aspirin on a single dose basis over a five hour time course and first results indicate that beneficial effects are apparent within 1 ½ and 3 hours from drinking the first glass.

Fruitflow is found in a natural fruit juice called Sirco™ that has no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colours or flavours and is naturally cholesterol and salt free. One 250ml serving contains 3g of Fruitflow™ (the recommended daily consumption) and lasts up to 18 hours and you have a choice of Pomegranate & Orange or Blueberry & Apple.

You should find it in the chiller cabinet of your health store, or major supermarkets like Waitrose. To find out more go to www.sircoheart.com

Music’s role in heart health

August 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Health


I am a great believer in the restorative power of music and have written before about its role in helping reduce blood pressure and anxiety in cancer patients and there carers. Now it seems it can also help aftercare rehabilitation for heart and stroke patients.

One reason why this makes sense is that our blood flow and respiratory rates can actually change their rhythm to be in synch with music according to a study by Italian researchers at Pavia University and published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. They had found in an earlier study in 2006 that music with faster tempos resulted in increased breathing, heart rate and blood pressure and that when the music was paused there was a fall in all those rates.

Not sure why this is news, they just needed to have asked women who knit in time to music and find themselves racing up a sleeve whenever a military march came on the radio or they were listening to a band concert in the park and the strains of Yesterday reduced their stitch rate by half! Now they have found that swelling crescendos in the volume stimulate our body and that gradual decreases in volume makes us relax. I am sure there is an emotional component here as we respond viscerally to music which then affects our whole body systems but it is clear that music does induce a continuous, dynamic — and to some extent predictable — change in our cardiovascular system and that it is a two way process.

So if you want a healthy heart listen to music that stimulates it a little, and also offers relaxation – for myself I would add in joy as well, but that isn’t covered in the research. If you want to try the experiment for yourself they played their subjects random selections including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; an aria from Puccini’s Turandot; a Bach cantata (BMW 169); Va Pensiero from Nabucco; Libiam Nei Lieti Calici from La Traviata — as well as two minutes of silence. The profile of music (crescendo or decrescendo) was continuously tracked by the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and change was particularly marked when the music was rich in emphasis, like opera.

The technical stuff:

Every crescendo in the music led to increased narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased respiration. In each music track the extent of the effect was proportional to the change in music profile.

During the silent pause, changes decreased, with blood vessels under the skin dilating and marked reductions in heart rate and blood pressure. Unlike with music, silence reduced heart rate and other variables, indicating relaxation.

Music phrases around 10 seconds long, like those used in “Va Pensiero” and “Libiam Nei Lieti Calici,” synchronized inherent cardiovascular rhythm, thus modulating cardiovascular control.

We know that music reduces stress, boosts athletic performance and enhances motor skills of people with neurological impairments and is frequently being used as a therapeutic tool for heart and stroke patients. What’s new is that this study shows that alternating between fast and slow music (crescendo and decrescendo within the same music track) may be potentially more effective.

If you are interested in the music that was used in the clinical trial at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre then visit SulisMusic.com

Cheer up your heart

December 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, Medical Research & Studies

I was extolling the virtues of laughter in this article about laughter yoga, and now here’s another of my favourite stress busters which can have a wonderful effect on your heart health. No drugs and no side effects are involved you just need to listen to some joyful music and the function of your blood vessels will be vastly improved, and that’s good for your heart.

No I didn’t make it up just because I love listening to music, it’s based on research presented by the University of Maryland School of Medicine at the recent American Heart Association Scientific Sessions meeting in New Orleans. So, tune in your radio, or get out your favourite piece of music – the only criteria is that it must give you a great sense of joy – so whether it’s Bach, the Beatles, or Bonzo Dog they will all have the same health-giving benefits.

What happens when you listen to music is that the tissue in the inner lining of your blood vessels dilates and that increases blood flow. Known as the endothelium, the lining of blood vessels has a powerful effect on health, especially the development of cardiovascular disease, because it regulates blood flow and adjusts blood thickening and coagulation. Plus, at no extra cost, it releases substances in response to wounds, infections or irritation. So be kind to it and play it something wonderful! Don’t however put on the funeral march or anything that stresses you like heavy metal, as if then your blood vessels will narrow and restrict blood flow.

For the statistically minded, the research showed that blood vessels dilated an extra 26% for joyful music and music that stressed the listener narrowed blood vessels by 6%. I think it might be time to give up listening to Leonard Cohen – or at least ration my intake on health grounds. Oh, and I also know that signing has the same good effect, and as I have been lucky enough to be in a couple of passenger choirs on cruise ships recently I can highly recommend it as both joyful, and stimulating as you try to remember the words and work out if it’s you or your neighbour that is singing off-key!