Avoidance Of Four Factors Equals Four More Years

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March 23, 2010

Avoidance of four factors = four more years

Avoidance of four factors = four more years

An article published on March 23, 2010 in the journal PLoS Medicine reveals the conclusions of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Washington that smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose, and being overweight or obese decrease life expectancy by an average of 4.9 years for U.S. men and by 4.1 years for women.

Harvard School of Public Health associate professor of international health Majid Ezzati and associates evaluated 2005 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, along with a review of epidemiologic studies concerning the effects of these factors. They also estimated the risk factors' effects on 8 eight U.S. subgroups including Asians, Northland low-income rural whites, middle America, Appalachia and Mississippi Valley low-income whites, Western Native Americans, black middle America, high-risk urban blacks and Southern rural blacks.

Dr Ezzati and colleagues estimated the amount of deaths that would not have occurred in 2005 if exposure to the risk factors had been reduced to optimal levels or common guidelines. Elimination of obesity was calculated to increase life expectancy by an average of 1.3 years, normalization of hypertension was estimated to result in an added 1.5 years for men and 1.6 years for women, smoking cessation was correlated with an extra 2.5 years for men and 1.8 years for women, and optimization of blood glucose was estimated to confer an extra 0.5 years on male life expectancy and 0.3 years on that of females. Among those who had all four factors, Southern rural blacks experienced the greatest reduction in life expectancy and Asians had the least reduction. The four factors were determined to account for nearly 20 percent of U.S. life expectancy disparities, 75 percent of cardiovascular mortality disparities, and 50 percent of cancer disparities.

The investigation is the first to examine the consequences of these preventable risk factors on life expectancy across the United States. "This study demonstrates the potential of disease prevention to not only improve health outcomes in the entire nation but also to reduce the enormous disparities in life expectancy that we see in the U.S.," Dr Ezzati commented.

"It's important that public health policy makers understand that these behavioral and metabolic risk factors are not just personal choices or the responsibility of doctors," added lead author and Harvard School of Public Health postdoctoral research fellow Goodarz Danaei. "To improve the nation's overall health and reduce health disparities, both population-based and personal interventions that reduce these preventable risk factors must be identified, implemented, and rigorously evaluated."

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Health Concern

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is dangerous in part because it rarely causes symptoms at first but is a risk factor for many other conditions. According to data gathered as part of the Framingham Heart Study, people who have high blood pressure are at significantly increased risk of developing dangerous conditions related to high blood pressure. In this study, for every 10 mm Hg increase in systolic pressure, there was a doubling of the risk of having a heart attack or stroke or of having kidney failure (Kannel WB 2003; Klag MJ et al 2003; Wolf PA 2003).

Taurine is a sulfur-containing amino acid that is classified as conditionally essential, since the body can produce it from other amino acids, such as cysteine, based on the body’s needs. A study was performed on 10 young adults who were borderline hypertensive and took 6 g/day of taurine. Their average systolic blood pressure decreased 9 mm Hg (Fujita T et al 1987). Researchers speculate that taurine may modulate an overactive sympathetic nervous system (Militante JD et al 2002).

Soy is a high-protein, low-fat food derived from soybean. Protein comprises nearly half its calories, and carbohydrate and fat roughly equal the other half. Soy holds only a trace amount of saturated fat and no cholesterol. In search of a natural approach to treating high blood pressure, a recent study addressed the effects of increased dietary soy protein on blood pressure. Researchers confirmed previous studies that showed higher intake of vegetable protein lowers blood pressure (He J et al 2005).

Data from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study found higher intake of soy was associated with lower blood pressure (Yang G et al 2005). The mechanism responsible for the reduction of blood pressure is not well understood. One plausible explanation concludes that soy protein (or an overall increase in protein) may lead to dietary arginine-induced increases in nitric oxide, which helps dilate blood vessels and improve endothelial function (Cuevas AM et al 2004).

Many patients who have high blood pressure use garlic to lower high blood pressure or help prevent fatty plaque buildup in the arteries and blockages that can lead to heart attack or stroke. The sulfur compounds, especially allicin, are the active ingredients in garlic (Tattelman E 2005). More medical research is underway to assess the usefulness of garlic to prevent heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure (Edwards QT et al 2005).

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