Roundup: Heart Attacks Peak During Holidays, Experts Warn; Surge Among Older Americans in Deaths from Drug Overdoses, Alcohol Abuse; and More News

American Heart Association Warns Everyone that Deadly Heart Attacks Peak During the Holidays

More people die from heart attacks during the last week of December than at any other time of the year, and the American Heart Association (AHA) is urging everyone to be aware of this “annual phenomenon” and take steps to reduce stress and maintain year-round healthy habits during the holidays.

The AHA points to research that has found increases in cardiac events during the winter holiday season. One landmark study, published in Circulation, the flagship journal of the American Heart Association, reported that more cardiac deaths occur on December 25 than on any other day of the year. The second largest number of cardiac deaths occurs on December 26, and the third largest number on January 1.

"The holidays are a busy, often stressful, time for many of us,” said the AHA’s chief clinical science officer Mitchell S.V. Elkind, M.D., in a statement. “Routines are disrupted; we may tend to eat and drink more and exercise and relax less. We’re getting too little sleep and experiencing too much stress. We also may not be listening to our bodies or paying attention to warning signs, thinking a trip to the doctor can wait until after the new year.

“While we don’t know exactly why there are more deadly heart attacks during this time of year, it’s important to be aware that all of these factors can be snowballing contributors to increasing the risk for a deadly cardiac event."

Here are tips from the AHA on getting through the holidays without a health scare or worse:

Know symptoms and take action: Heart attack signs vary in men and women and it’s important to recognize them early and call 9-1-1 for help. The sooner medical treatment begins, the better the chances of survival and preventing heart damage.

Celebrate in moderation Eating healthfully during the holidays doesn’t have to mean depriving yourself, there are still ways to eat smart. Look for small, healthy changes and swaps you can make so you continue to feel your best while eating and drinking in moderation, and don’t forget to watch your salt intake.

Plan for peace on earth and goodwill toward yourself: Make time to take care of yourself during the busy holiday. Reduce stress from family interactions, strained finances, hectic schedules and other stressors prevalent this time of year, including traveling.

Keep moving: The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and this number usually drops during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Get creative with ways to stay active, even if it’s going for a family walk or another fun activity you can do with your loved ones.  

Stick to your meds: Busy holidays can cause you to skip medications, forgetting them when away from home or not getting refills in a timely manner. Here is a medication chart to help stay on top of it, and be sure to keep tabs on your blood pressure numbers.


CDC: Deaths Among Older Adults from Drug Overdoses, Alcohol Abuse Increasing Significantly

Deaths from drug overdoses and alcohol abuse among U.S. adults aged 65 and older have been rising significantly “as it has among younger Americans,” according to two new reports from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Death rates from drug overdoses among people 65 and older have more than tripled over the past two decades (2.4 deaths per 100,000 people ages 65 and over in 2000 vs. 8.8 in 2020), with faster rates of increase for men than women in the recent period, the CDC states. Death rates from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids represent a large segment, increasing by 53 percent from 2019 to 2020 among people age 65 and over, the CDC emphasized.

Alcohol-induced death rates in the 65-and-older population have been increasing since 2011 and rose more than 18 percent from 2019 to 2020., the reports said. In 2020, more than 11,000 older adults died of alcohol-induced causes. That’s more than twice many -- more than 5,000 people ages 65 and older – who died of a drug overdose in 2020.

Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol, and older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than younger people. “This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking,” says states the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Heaving drinking can also make certain underlying health conditions worse in older adults, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, liver problems and memory issues.

Regarding drug overdose deaths, the CDC says:

  • Between 2000 and 2020, age-adjusted rates of drug overdose deaths for adults aged 65 and over increased from 2.4 deaths per 100,000 standard population to 8.8 per 100,000.
  • For men, after increasing by 5 percent annually on average between 2000 and 2014, drug overdose death rates increased by 14 percent annually on average and more than doubled between 2014 and 2020.
  • For women, drug overdose death rates nearly doubled between 2000 and 2009, and continued to increase at a slower rate from 2009 to 2020.
  • Age-adjusted rates of drug overdose deaths for men were 1.2 times higher than for women in 2000, and 2.1 times higher in 2020.


Researchers Link Plant-Rich, Healthy Diets to Lower Risk of Colorectal Cancer in Men

Eating a plant-rich diet, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes — and low in refined grains, sugary drinks and added sugars — is good for overall health, including lower your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions, dietitians and doctors agree. A major new study has linked such a diet to a lower risk of colorectal cancer in men. The findings are published in the journal BMC Medicine.

Researchers from Kyung Hee University in South Korea analyzed data on adults who were recruited from Hawaii and Los Angeles to the Multiethnic Cohort Study between 1993 and 1996. On average, male participants were aged 60 years and female participants were aged 59 years at the beginning of the study.  Participants reported their daily food and drink intake during the previous year.

Researchers assessed whether their diets were high in plant-based foods they classified as healthy — such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes — or unhealthy — for example refined grains, fruit juices, and added sugars — relative to other participants.

The research team calculated the incidence of new colorectal cancer cases until 2017 using data from cancer registries. They accounted for participants’ age, family history of colorectal cancer, BMI, smoking history, physical activity levels, alcohol consumption, multivitamin use and treatment, and daily energy intake.

Among the group of 79,952 American men, those who ate the highest average daily amounts of healthy plant-based foods had a 22 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer, compared to those who ate the lowest amounts of healthy plant foods. “However, the authors did not identify any significant associations between the nutritional quality of plant-based diets and colorectal cancer risk among a population of 93,475 American women,” states a news release on the study.

States Jihye Kim, a corresponding author of the study in a statement: “We speculate that the antioxidants found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could contribute to lowering colorectal cancer risk by suppressing chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer. As men tend to have a higher risk of colorectal cancer than women, we propose that this could help explain why eating greater amounts of healthy plant-based foods was associated with reduced colorectal cancer risk in men but not women.”

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is: about 1 in 23 (4.3 percent) for men and 1 in 25 (4.0 percent) for women, according to the American Cancer Society.

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