Roundup: Belly Fat's Higher Health Risks; Another Reason to Quit Smoking; and Hair-Graying Stress

‘Belly Fat’ Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke, New Study Finds

For the first time, researchers say they have found a link between “belly fat” and the risk of a subsequent heart attack or stroke.

Previous studies have found that people with excess “belly fat” are at highest risk for such serious obesity-related conditions as diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.

Other recent studies have found that apple-shaped bodies, with high visceral fat concentration in the belly, run a higher risk of developing heart disease compared to people with “pear shaped” bodies in which more fat is concentrated in the hips or lower — regardless of overall body weight or body mass index (BMI).

The latest study, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, tracked more than 22,000 Swedish patients after their first heart attack and focused on the connection between their waist circumference and health issues caused by clogged arteries, such as fatal and non-fatal heart attacks and stroke. They were monitored for nearly four years.

Researchers found that belly fat was associated with heart attacks and stroke — despite other risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, hypertension and BMI (body mass index). The link was stronger with men, who made up nearly three-quarters of the patients included in the study.

The risk of heart disease — and heart attacks or strokes — is considered to be higher with a waist measurement of above 94 cm (37 inches) in men and above 80 cm (31.5 inches) in women, according to the World Health Organization.

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Patient’s Smoking Habit Increases Risk of Post-Surgical Complications, Says Global Study

The well-documented health risks of smoking include cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. A new study adds yet another health risk. Researchers say tobacco smokers are at significantly higher risk than non-smokers for post-surgical complications, including impaired heart and lung functions, infections and delayed or impaired wound healing.

However, the new study also concludes that smokers who quit about four weeks or more before surgery have a lower risk of complications and improved post-surgery recovery.

Every tobacco-free week after four weeks improves health outcomes by 19 percent because of improved blood flow to bodily organs, according to the study by the World Health Organization (WHO), the University of Newcastle, Australia and the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists (WFSA).

“The report provides evidence that there are advantages to postponing minor or non-emergency surgery to give patients the opportunity to quit smoking, resulting in a better health outcome,” said Vinayak Prasad, M.D., who heads the Tobacco Free Initiative for the World Health Organization.

The researchers say that the nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes decrease oxygen levels, which significantly increases the risk of heart-related complications after surgery. Smoking also affects a patient’s immune system and can prolong healing and increase the risk of post-surgery infection.

The study concludes that “mechanisms to facilitate active referral to (smoking) cessation resources should be implemented as part of … routine surgical care.”

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Stress Can Actually Fuel Premature Hair Graying, Says First Study of Its Kind

Could it be true that stress does contribute to premature hair graying? Researchers has found that might be the case — at least in mice. They concluded that stressful events may damage the stem cells that are responsible for producing pigment in hair.

These stem cells, form more specialized cells at the base of hair follicles, called melanocytes, which generate the brown, black, red and yellow hues in hair and skin. Stress makes the stem cells works faster, exhausting their number and resulting in hair strands that turn gray.

The study, published Wednesday in Nature, also noted that the “sympathetic nervous system,” which prepares the body to respond to threats, plays a key role in this hair graying process.

“Normally, the sympathetic nervous system is an emergency system for fight or flight, and it is supposed to be very beneficial or, at the very least, its effects are supposed to be transient and reversible,” said Ya-Chieh Hsu, a stem cell biologist at Harvard University who led the study, told the New York Times.

A sympathetic nervous system helps people get ready to handle stressful evens, including increasing the flow of blood to muscles and sharpening mental focus. But researchers found that this the same system of nerves can permanently depleted the stem cell population in hair follicles, contributing to hair graying.

The findings provide the first scientific link between stress and hair graying, Dr. Hsu said.

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