5 Advances in Heart Health

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TAKE THIS: Fish oil
It requires no prescription, but fish oil packs lots of power. According to a recent review of more than a dozen major studies, if you have high cholesterol, fish oil can lower your odds of cardiovascular problems by nearly 20 percent; if you've had a heart attack, it can cut the likelihood of a second one by 15 to 30 percent. It's the fatty acids EPA and DHA that are key. 'All healthy people should average about 500 milligrams a day of combined EPA and DHA,' says study author Carl J. Lavie, MD. 'You can get that with two fish meals per week or through a supplement.'

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This heart hero helps ward off heart attacks in men and strokes in women, but experts have become more leery of its ability to cause serious stomach bleeding. So the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has adjusted its guidelines. The important changes: Generally speaking, men shouldn't take aspirin as a preventive before age 45, women should wait until age 55, both should stop at age 79-and no one should start popping the pill without talking to a doctor about potential payoffs versus the danger of bleeding. The task force also recommends a lower dose for prevention: just one low-dose aspirin (81 mg) daily or one regular aspirin (325 mg) every other day.

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TREAT THIS: Depression
Sure, it's depressing to have heart disease, but evidence is growing that depression may also be a risk factor. In an investigation of 63,000 women, those who were depressed during the 12-year study were twice as likely to eventually experience sudden cardiac death. That's more reason to get counseling, antidepressants, or both, says cardiologist Sharonne N. Hayes, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Researchers say the mood boosters sertraline and citalopram are least likely to interact with commonly used cardiac medications.

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DO THIS: Meditate
Studies have shown that this stress-taming technique decreases blood pressure and plaque buildup in arteries. Now it seems that meditation actually prevents heart attacks, strokes, and premature death in people with heart problems. Of 201 African Americans with cardiovascular disease, those who learned to meditate using the Transcendental Meditation technique were 47 percent less likely than nonmeditators to have a heart attack or stroke or to die of any cause. 'We tend to rush to the pillbox, but our study shows how powerful it can be to add stress reduction,' says researcher Theodore Kotchen, MD.

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SUPPORT THIS: Smoking Bans
No Smoking signs started cropping up more frequently after the surgeon general endorsed bans on smoking in public places back in 2006. Now the Institute of Medicine reports that heart attack rates have dropped by as much as 47 percent in areas that prohibit lighting up in public. So far, nearly half the states and the District of Columbia have enacted bans.

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