5 Ways to Eat Heart Healthy through the Holiday Season

It’s probably not at the forefront of your thoughts when cooking for the holidays, but whether you or a loved one has heart disease yourself, or it isn’t an issue in your family, it’s important to protect ourselves from the risks of unhealthy foods! Eating those decadent holiday foods, that are deceptively high in fat and cholesterol, can build up plaques in our arteries and increase our risk for stroke and heart attack. The good news is that foods high in antioxidants and fiber can help to prevent those plaques from forming and can actually protect your heart. And, a lot of those heart healthy foods are actually really yummy and easy to add on to any menu! What are the best heart healthy foods?

Read on over at Amerikanki.comhealthy foods

Yours in Good Health



The Flu Shot Can Decrease Heart Attack Risk?

I’ve given you all reasons why you should get your flu shot this year (every year, really), but there are some other reasons you should think about getting the flu shot. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a study recently that found people who got the flu shot decreased their risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or sudden cardiac death by almost 1/3rd!

flu_vaccineHow does this happen?

When you get the flu, the body has a huge immune response which causes swelling and inflammation generally throughout the body, which is why you feel body aches, soreness, have headaches, etc. On a vascular level, this inflammation can cause any plaques that may have formed from a build up of fats or other irritants, to become looser unstable, and they can then get into the blood supply, travel, and cause a stroke or heart attack. Also, because you may have lung involvement, it is can be more difficult to breathe, and your oxygen stores might be a little lower than normal, which can put added stress on your heart, which can cause heart failure. By preventing the immune response from the flu, by getting the flu shot, you will be putting your body under less stress and reduce your risk. There was a study of 6,700 people, in which about a third of them had some form of heart disease, and they found that of those people who got the flu vaccination, there was a 36% lower risk of having a cardiac event the following year AND if people had recently had a heart attack or stroke, their rates of having another event were found to be reduced even further.

Bottom Line: 

Any opportunity to reduce your risk of an immune response and major inflammation, will cause less stress to your heart and your vasculature, and decrease your risk of stroke and heart attack. Obviously getting a flu shot will not completely prevent your risk, but I think anything that will help to reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack is worthwhile. The study should be reproduced and be larger to prove its validity, but I truly encourage anyone with heart disease, post heart attack, or stroke to get the flu shot.  And, if you are worried or concerned, speak to your Healthcare Practitioner (HCP) about your risks!

Yours in Good Health


Can your Antibiotic cause an Untimely Death?

So many people know about the broadband antibiotic Azithromycin, also known as the Z-Pak, and many times people will call their Healthcare Practitioner (HCP) and ask for it by name. And over 55.3 million prescriptions were written for the Z-Pak last year alone! Not only is that a bad idea because using such a powerful antibiotic and not necessarily treating the appropriate organism can lead to antibiotic resistance organisms, but a new study is showing that the use of Z-Paks can also lead to heart arrhythmias, stroke, and death.

Z-PakWhat can happen?

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study, showing that people who took the Z-Pak were more likely to die of a heart attack, stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, or an arrhythmia (abnormal beating of the heart) than those prescribed other antibiotics. The Z-Pak is used so much because there are less pills over a shorter period of time than other antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, and there are many people with penicillin allergies that cannot take amoxicillin, so there is an increased use, because patients may be more likely to actually take the medicine appropriately and for the prescribed amount of time. All Medicaid patients on the Z-Pak and other antibiotics from 1992 to 2006 were looked at, at it was found that those on the Z-Pak were 2.5% more likely to die than those on other antibiotics. And, certain patients had a 10% increase for risk of death. Unfortunately they are still looking into the exact mechanism that maybe causing certain patients to die, but they are still researching that further.

Am I at Risk?

Now just because this study came out, and you may be taking a Z-Pak to treat a bacterial infection, it does not mean that you are going to die! The subset of patients that had a higher risk of cardiac death had a history of cardiac disease and/or arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) for various different reasons. So, while that particular reason is being studied, HCP’s need to ensure that they are utilizing the Z-Pak appropriately and when needed, and using more bacteria specific antibiotics, especially when patients have a cardiac history.  Also, it is important to only use antibiotics when you have a bacterial infection; many people go to their HCP in the throes of a viral infection and insist upon antibiotics, and clearly there are risks.

Trust your HCP that they will treat you with an antibiotic, if necessary, and realize that asking for a specific brand, may not be the most appropriate course of treatment, just because they have more advertisements! Asking for drugs by name, and pressuring your HCP for a specific treatment may not be the best thing for your health.  Seek treatment when necessary and have some faith that your HCP knows what is best!

Yours in Good Health


Go away Nemo: Blizzard Safety

For all those, like me, who are affected by the blizzard, a few ways to keep yourself safe:

1. Please do not stray too far out in the blizzard alone, with poor visibility, it is easy to get lost especially in poor lighting.

2. The same goes for your animals, off leash, they can easily get lost with poor visibility, especially with poor lighting. My two dogs are so small they are below the snow line…making this blizzard a real treat for bathroom breaks!

keeping them on leash ensures their safety....

keeping them on leash ensures their safety….

3. When shoveling, take breaks: the exercise when shoveling is a lot more exertion than people think, and it is easy to strain muscles and/or exert yourself to the point of heart attack (we see a lot of cardiac arrests during snow storm shoveling).  So please take breaks, and ask for help, or if you have a plow, do a favor for someone who might not be able to shovel themselves out.

4. Be careful with snow blowers: they can get clogged up, sometimes requiring you to pull out rocks, branches, etc. but make sure that the motor is off, and even though it isn’t as exerting as shoveling, take breaks! Being exhausted and operating any sort of motorized equipment is as unsafe as being under the influence of alcohol, so please be safe and take breaks as you can.

5. If you have chronic medical conditions, or are unwell, have a plan to get to medical assistance if necessary, and emergency services are up and running with the help of the National Guard, but they need to be safe getting to you, so times may be slightly delayed, so keep that in mind.  If you have someone driving you to the hospital, give yourself time and drive safely to get there.

6. Please be mindful of driving bans, it’s for your own safety!

7. Use common sense, it seems fun to go out and do crazy things in the snow, but temperatures are cold, visibility is low, snow drifts are higher than expected, and transportation is really difficult right now. So, if you have to get your crazies out, bring a cell phone and a friend, and let people know what you are up to/when you are going. Especially if you have been drinking to pass the time (remember to eat and to hydrate well!)

8. And a general winter warning: Don’t go skating on ponds unless it is posted that it is safe to do so.  Many times ponds/lakes appear more frozen than they are!

9. To stay healthy? Remember you don’t need a gym to get exercise when you get stir crazy, you can always rock out with some yoga, jumping jacks, burpees, squats, etc. there’s way to keep moving even when confined to your home.

Otherwise, enjoy the snow, have fun, and hopefully we will all be able to escape our homes safely soon enough!  Remember: Helping someone out is a good feeling, so if you are fit and have the means (a plow/snow blower), help someone who might be completely snowed in and unable to get themselves out.

Yours in Good Health


Lower Your Cholesterol Levels with Food!

Cholesterol is always one of those buzz words that people talk about and a health issue that they are worried about. It is something that we should all be screened for, and keep in our thoughts when we eat daily. As part of a healthy lifestyle, adding certain food to our diets can help to naturally remove the “bad” cholesterol from our bodies and increase the “good” cholesterol.

What kinds of Cholesterol are there?

There are two different kinds of cholesterol: Low Density Lipoproteins (LDLs) and High Density Lipoproteins.  I think that is where most people tend to zone out!  The LDLs are the “bad” cholesterol’s that tend to build up as plaques in your arteries and increase your risk of heart attacks, heart disease, and stroke.  The HDLs actually prevent heart attack and stroke, and they are thought to bring LDL cholesterol away from the heart and into the liver to be broken down and excreted by the liver.  Your LDLs should be kept below 100 (and some HCP’s will even tell you to get them below 70).  And HDL levels should be kept above 50 (the higher the better on this one!) Also, people over 20 ears old should get checked every 5 years, and once you hit the ripe old age of 35 (for men) and 45 (for women) you should be screened more frequently, and based on your past medical history, your HCP may screen your with your annual physical.

What can I eat to decrease my LDL and increase my HDL?

There are many foods that can help boost your “good” cholesterol and help to decrease the “bad”, of course this is along with a healthy lifestyle of exercising 20-30 minutes minimum a day and, drinking lot of water, and if this doesn’t help, you may have to use medications to drop your “bad” cholesterol levels.

Oats: two servings of oats per day have been shown to decrease LDL by up to a little over 5% in 6 weeks. It has a substance in the oats that absorb the LDLs and help you to excrete them so they don’t adhere to your artery walls.

Red Wine: Some of the grapes used in making Rioja wine were found to have high fiber levels, and a study conducted in Spain found that people with slightly elevated LDLs had around a 9% drop in LDLs and those who entered the study with high LDLs had around a 12% decrease.

Fish high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Salmon, Arctic Char, Mackerel, & Sardines are high in Omega 3’s can help to increase HDL’s by 4% when replacing other meals with proteins high in saturated fats.

Beans: Adding 1/2 beans (black, kidney, pinto) to soup can help to decrease LDLs up to 8% because they are so full in fiber, it can help to draw the LDLs out.

Olive Oil: It is full of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA) that help to lower LDL levels and actually increase HDLs

Black Tea: one serving of black tea a day can decrease LDLs up to 10% in only 3 weeks!

Avocado: Whilst high in calories and fat, they are also full of the MUFAs, so they should be used in moderation, but a tasty treat to boost “good” cholesterol!

Chocolate: In a large study, participants that added a serving of cocoa powder to their diet daily for 12 weeks increased their HDLs by 24%.

Garlic: Helps top lower cholesterol by preventing LDLs from sticking to the artery walls, and it is suggested to eat 2 to 4 fresh cloves a day (but yikes, get ready for some kickin’ breath!)

Walnuts: When eating 1.5 oz of walnuts 6 days/ week for a month, study participants were found to have a decrease in LDLs by 9.3%, but just like avocados they are high in fat and calories, so watch how much you eat, and try to stick to the 1.5oz per day.

Adding these foods to a healthy lifestyle can help to keep your cholesterol in a good, healthy range, and if you tend to eat a higher fatty diet, try to supplement a higher fat food for one of these cholesterol lowering foods.  Talk to your HCP about your risks, your current cholesterol levels, and make sure that you have follow-up cholesterol levels checked after changing your lifestyle to show improvement.  Try to add these foods and live a heart healthy lifestyle!

Yours in Good Health



Atrial Fibrillation (AFib): Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Atrial fibrillation is a very common cardiac issue, although I am hearing about more and more people being diagnosed with it, and I am getting lots of questions from readers about this diagnosis.  Again, it is very common, and I think that people should be aware of the symptoms, the causes, and the treatment of this cardiac arrhythmia (and arrhythmia is just when the heart beats at an abnormal rate or rhythm.)

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

It is an abnormal heartbeat, that can be very rapid, and lead to poor blood flow to various parts of the body, as the heart isn’t able to completely fill with blood before contracting (each beat), so only some of the blood that should be going out through your arteries to the extremities is available.  The atria (the top two portions of the heart) are beating faster and not in sync with the ventricles (the lower portions of the heart.)  Normally the Sinus Node (a group of cells in your heart) act as a natural pacemaker for you heart; it sends out a signal that passed through the atria (the upper two chambers of your heart) and causes them to contract and pump blood into the ventricles (the lower to chambers), then the signal hits the AV (atrioventricular) Node, which causes the ventricles to contract and move blood out from the heart into the extremities. in Atrial Fibrillation, the Sinus Node sends chaotic signals, so the atria are quivering in attempting to respond to each electrical signal, and the  AV Node becomes overwhelmed with the electrical signals as well, so the ventricles also beat faster than normal (though not as fast as the atria).  The normal heart rate is 50-90 and in AFib your heart rate can be as fast as 100-175 beats per minute.

It is normally not life threatening, as people live with it chronically, or they flip in and out of it, but it can have some serious complications, and if you go into a rapid a fib, you should be seen immediately by medical services, especially if you are feeling unwell, light-headed, etc.  There are various different treatments, including medications and electrical treatments.  Many people live long lives with chronic atrial fibrillation, it is just important to know the symptoms, treatments, risks of treatments, and when you should seek immediate medical attention.

What are the Symptoms?

*If you have any of these symptoms, you should be seen by your HCP to get your heart checked out and make sure that is the source.  Also, as I said above, there is paroxysmal AFib which comes and goes with symptoms, and chronic, in which your heart is continuously in this abnormal rhythm.

-Palpitations (a fluttering in the chest, rapid/racing heart rate)




-Shortness of breath

*If you ever have chest pain along with any of these symptoms, or alone, you should seek immediate medical attention because you may be having a heart attack. Please go to the nearest emergency department or call 911.

What are the causes of AFib?

-Congenital heart defects (heart defects you are born with)

-Heart Attacks

-High Blood Pressure

-Heavy use of stimulants (caffeine, medications, tobacco)

-Heavy alcohol use

-Sick Sinus Syndrome (a defect of the sinus node where it speeds up on its own)

-Emphysema or other chronic lung diseases (like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD)

-Abnormal heart valves

-Prior cardiac surgery

-Viral infections

-Sleep Apnea (where you lose your airway for short periods of time while sleeping)

-Stress from Pneumonia or other illnesses

What will put me at higher risk?

-A family history: If anyone in your family, especially a close relative has AFib, you are also at risk.

-Age: The older you are, the more increased your risk becomes. Especially if you have any chronic illnesses

-High Blood Pressure: If you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, you are at a higher risk for AFib.  If you have made the proper lifestyle changes to get more exercise, eat healthy, and take medications to treat the blood pressure, then your risk shouldn’t be increased.

-Heart disease: If you have a history of heart attacks, valvular disease, heart surgery, or other arrythmias.

-Drink Alcohol: Usually binge drinking (5 drinks in two hours) can put both men and women at a higher risk for atrial fibrillation. (take heed college students!)

What are the major Complications?

Well, one of the biggest risks is stroke. When the atria are quivering and not completely expelling all of the blood they fill with to the ventricles, the blood leftover is at risk to clot (little micro clots) and when they get ejected eventually into the blood stream, it can travel to the brain, impede blood flow, and cause a stroke (death of some of the brain cells due to a lack of blood flow.)  Also, when your heart is working so hard constantly, without treatment, it can lead to heart failure; your heart is unable to meet the demand of your body by being able to eject enough blood to get to where it needs to go.

How is AFib diagnosed?

It is early important to bring with you a list of symptoms of your HCP, when you most experience them, all of your past medical history, any and all medications you take, and be very honest with your HCP about your lifestyle (eating habits, exercise, etc.) Your HCP will take that into account when doing your physical assessment, listening to your heart sounds, and checking your blood pressure and heart rate.  You will also most likely have:

An EKG: an Electrocardiogram which is a 12 lead assessment of the electrical impulses of your heart. 12 little stickers are placed on the skin on your chest, and little plastic/metal leads are connected, you will be asked to stay still for about 30 seconds, then a print out of your hearts impulses comes out.  It shows what is going on and is not very invasive at all, and a snap shot of your heart.

A Holter Monitor: A monitor with about 5 leads is attached to your for 1 to 2 days, and is worn under your clothing, it constantly checks the rhythm of your heart and if you feel symptoms, you push a button, and all of that information is downloaded by your HCP so they can correlate symptoms and your heart rhythm.

An Event Recorder: Similar to a Holter monitor, but worn for a month, and it only records when you have an arrhythmia, and it sends signals to your HCP when you have those events, and it helpful at showing when arrhythmias happen at unexpected times (like during sleep.)

Echocardiogram: basically an ultrasound of your heart through your chest wall, there is some lubricant applied to your chest, and a hard plastic wand is moved over it to show how your heart is functioning and can give  a 3D view of the actual functioning of the heart. It can help to diagnose if you have any structural abnormalities.

Blood Tests: your HCP will check to see if you have a thyroid problem or any other electrolyte abnormalities that would cause your heart to beat irregularly.

Chest X-Ray: Just a quick and less invasive way to see your heart and lungs and diagnose a possible pneumonia that could cause your symptoms.

What are the treatments?

The treatments are aimed at controlling your heart rate and preventing blood clots. If you are caught quickly with the arrhythmia, you can be cardioverted (your heart rate can be attempted to be manipulated and changed) back to a normal rhythm using either electricity (you will be given sedation and get a moderate amount of electricity to shock the heart back into a normal rate)  or you can be given Intravenous medications to do the same thing  (which requires monitoring and a possible overnight in the hospital).  Before any form of cardioversion you will be given a blood thinner to prevent clots from forming and from being ejected into the blood to prevent a stroke. And you will also have to take the medications for 4-6 weeks after a successful cardioversion.  Most often Coumadin (warfarin) is used as a blood thinner, but you have to be careful, as there are MANY side effects with Coumadin (and the other blood thinners commonly used such as Dabigatrand and Rivaroxaban.)

If the cardioversion is NOT successful, you will be kept on a blood thinner and a medication to keep your heart rate 60-90 and prevent the rapid Atrial Fibrillation.  Some of the medications that may be used to rate control your heart are:

-Amiodarone (Cordarone)

-Dofetilide (Tikosyn)

-Metoprolol (Lopressor)

-Sotalol (Betapace)

-Dronedarone (Maltaq)

There are two surgical procedures that can be done that can treat AFib as well.  A radio ablation is when the HCP puts a catheter through your groin artery into your heart, and where there are areas of “hot spots” or cells that are acting like a pacemaker (like your Sinus Node), electricity is used to ill off those hot spots and cause scarring. Electrical impulses in the heart cannot go through scar tissue.  There is also a surgical Maze procedure where there are small cuts made in the heart tissue to also cause scaring and prevent the electrical impulses from causing the quivering of the atria; this needs to be done during open heart surgery so is usually down when someone is having open heart for another reason (such as valvular repair) and if they do not respond to other treatments.  These are both pretty invasive, but if you do not want to chronically be on medications or are not responsive to medications, they are great options.

How do I prevent AFib?

Some of the risks you have no control over, like family history or congenital defects, but overall, living a healthy lifestyle, eating low-fat and low sodium, and getting at least 20-30 minutes of exercise daily greatly helps you in preventing AFib.  Also, quit smoking, and don’t intake too many stimulants (maybe you don’t need that 4th cup of coffee and lay off the 5 hour energy?).  Try to limit your drink in g to 1-2 drinks per day, and just be aware of the symptoms.  If you are at all worried about your risks, or you have any of the symptoms, talk to your HCP and see if there is anything else you can do to prevent AFib.

Yours In Good Health