coronary heart disease

This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of spiritually based interventions on blood pressure (BP) among adults. A systematic search was performed using the PubMed, Scopus, and Cochrane databases to identify studies evaluating spiritual interventions, including:

  • meditation,
  • transcendental meditation,
  • mindfulness meditation,
  • yoga,

for high BP among adults up to January 1, 2022.

The inclusion criteria were:

  • (a) randomized controlled trials (RCTs),
  • (b) studies in English or Persian,
  • (c) studies conducted among adults (≥ 18 years),
  • (d) studies reporting systolic or diastolic BP.

Given the high heterogeneity of these studies, a random effect model was used to calculate the effect sizes for the RCTs.

In total, the systematic review included 24 studies and the meta-analysis included 23 studies. As some of studies reported two or more outcome measurements, separate estimates of each outcome were extracted for that study (24 datasets). Fifteen trials reported the mean (SD) systolic blood pressure (SBP), and 13 trials reported the mean (SD) diastolic blood pressure (DBP). In addition, 13 studies reported means (SDs) and six trials reported mean changes in DBP. A significant decrease was found in systolic BP following intervention ((WMD (weighted mean difference) =  − 7.63 [− 9.61 to − 5.65; P < 0.001]). We observed significant heterogeneity among the studies (I2 = 96.9; P < 0.001). A significant decrease was observed in DBP following the interventions (WMD =  − 4.75 [− 6.45 to − 3.05; P < 0.001]).

The authors concluded that spiritually based interventions including meditation and yoga had beneficial effects in reducing both SBP and DBP. Reducing BP can be expected to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Q: What do the RCTs of these interventions have in common?

A: They cannot normally be placebo-controlled because no adequate placebos exist for these therapies.

Q: What does that mean?

A: It means that patients could not be blinded and that patient expectations influenced the outcome.

In view of the fact that blood pressure is an endpoint that is extremely sensitive to expectation, I think, the conclusions of this paper might need to be re-formulated:

This analysis confirms that expectation can have beneficial effects in reducing both SBP and DBP. Reducing BP can be expected to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

It has been reported that 5 people who took a Japanese health supplement have died and more than 100 have been hospitalized as of Friday, a week after a pharmaceutical company issued a recall of the products, officials said. Osaka-based Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. came under fire for not going public quickly with problems known internally as early as January. Yet the first public announcement came only on 22 March. Company officials said 114 people were being treated in hospitals after taking products — including Benikoji Choleste Help meant to lower cholesterol — that contain an ingredient called benikoji, a red species of mold. Some people developed kidney problems after taking the supplements, but the exact cause was still under investigation in cooperation with government laboratories, according to the manufacturer.

“We apologize deeply,” President Akihiro Kobayashi told reporters last Friday, bowing for a long time to emphasize the apology alongside three other top company officials. He expressed remorse to those who have died and have been taken ill and to their families. He also apologized for the troubles caused to the entire health food industry and the medical profession, adding that the company was working to prevent further damage and improve crisis management.

The company’s products have been recalled — as have dozens of other products that contain benikoji, including miso paste, crackers, and a vinegar dressing. Japan’s health ministry put up a list on its official site of all the recalled products, including some that use benikoji for food coloring. The ministry warned the deaths could keep growing. The supplements could be bought at drug stores without a prescription from a doctor, and some may have been purchased or exported before the recall, including by tourists who may not be aware of the health risks.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical had been selling benikoji products for years, with a million packages sold over the past 3 fiscal years, but a problem crept up with the supplements produced in 2023. Kobayashi Pharmaceutical said it produced 18.5 tons of benikoji last year. Some analysts blame the recent deregulation initiatives, which simplified and sped up approval for health products to spur economic growth.


Anouther source reported that Japanese authorities on Saturday raided a drug factory after a pharmaceutical company reported at least five deaths and 114 hospitalizations possibly linked to a health supplement. About a dozen Japanese health officials walked into the Osaka plant of the Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., as seen in footage of the raid widely telecasted on Japanese news. The health supplement in question is a pink pill called Benikoji Choleste Help. It is said to help lower cholesterol levels. A key ingredient is benikoji, a type of red mold. The company has said it knows little about the cause of the sickness, which can include kidney failure. It is currently investigating the effects in cooperation with Japan’s government.


More recent reports update the figure of affected individuals: Japanese dietary supplements at the center of an expanding health scare have now been linked to at least 157 hospitalizations, a health ministry official said Tuesday.The figure reflects an increase from the 114 hospitalization cases that Kobayashi Pharmaceutical said on Friday were linked to its products containing red yeast rice, or beni kōji.


A Kobayashi Pharmaceutical spokeswoman confirmed the latest hospitalization cases without elaborating further.

Benikoji is widely sold and used; not just in Japan. It comes under a range of different names:

  • red yeast rice,
  • red fermented rice,
  • red kojic rice,
  • red koji rice,
  • anka,
  • angkak,
  • Ben Cao Gang Mu.

It is a bright reddish purple fermented rice which acquires its color from being cultivated with the mold Monascus purpureus. Red yeast rice is used as food and as a medicine in Asian cultures, such as Kampo and TCM.

It contains lovastatin which, of course, became patented  and is marketed as the prescription drug, Mevacor. Red yeast rice went on to become a non-prescription dietary supplement in the United States and other countries. In 1998, the U.S. FDA banned a dietary supplement containing red yeast rice extract, stating that red yeast rice products containing monacolin K are identical to a prescription drug, and thus subject to regulation as a drug.

Microplastics are tiny polymer fragments that range from less than 0.2 inch to 1/25,000th of an inch. Smaller particles are called nanoplastics and are measured in billionths of a metre. Microplastics and nanoplastics (MNPs) are emerging as a potential risk factor for human health and for cardiovascular disease in particular. However, direct evidence that this risk extends to humans has so far been lacking. This investigation is a first step towards filling the gap.

The researchers conducted a prospective, multicenter, observational study involving patients who were undergoing carotid endarterectomy for asymptomatic carotid artery disease. The excised carotid plaque specimens were analyzed for the presence of MNPs with the use of pyrolysis–gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, stable isotope analysis, and electron microscopy. Inflammatory biomarkers were assessed with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and immunohistochemical assay. The primary end point was a composite of myocardial infarction, stroke, or death from any cause among patients who had evidence of MNPs in plaque as compared with patients with plaque that showed no evidence of MNPs.

A total of 304 patients were enrolled in the study, and 257 completed a mean (±SD) follow-up of 33.7±6.9 months. Polyethylene was detected in carotid artery plaque of 150 patients (58.4%), with a mean level of 21.7±24.5 μg per milligram of plaque; 31 patients (12.1%) also had measurable amounts of polyvinyl chloride, with a mean level of 5.2±2.4 μg per milligram of plaque. Electron microscopy revealed visible, jagged-edged foreign particles among plaque macrophages and scattered in the external debris. Radiographic examination showed that some of these particles included chlorine. Patients in whom MNPs were detected within the atheroma were at higher risk for a primary end-point event than those in whom these substances were not detected (hazard ratio, 4.53; 95% confidence interval, 2.00 to 10.27; P<0.001).

The authors concluded that, in this study, patients with carotid artery plaque in which MNPs were detected had a higher risk of a composite of myocardial infarction, stroke, or death from any cause at 34 months of follow-up than those in whom MNPs were not detected.

This is an impressive study – so much so that I report it here even though it has no connection to so-called alternative medicine, the focus of my blog. The fact that 58% of all plaques contained MNPs seems alarming. The finding that the presence of these MNPs is associated with a poor cardiovascular prognosis seems even more concerning.

MNPs have been found in every environmental compartment on earth. They are ingested not just by humans but by most animals as well. Even though research into these issues is most active, their effects are so far still under-researched and not fully understood.

The authors of the new investigation are rightly cautious: “Our data must be confirmed by other studies and on larger populations,” said Marfella, professor of internal medicine and director of the department of medical and surgical sciences at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli in Naples, Italy. “However, our study convincingly highlights the presence of plastics and their association with cardiovascular events in a representative population affected by atherosclerosis.”

Of course, many questions are as yet unanswered but the subject is as worrying as it is important, e.g.:

  • Should exposure to MNPs be considered a cardiovascular risk factor?
  • What organs in addition to the heart may be at risk?
  • How can we reduce exposure?”

I wish I knew the ansers.

These days – 11 years after the closure of my department at Exeter – it is not often that I co-author a peer-reviewed paper. All the more reason, I think, to celebrate when it does happen:

Our review was aimed at determining the effectiveness of meditation, primarily mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) and transcendental meditation (TM), for the primary and secondary prevention of CVD.

We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, three other databases, and two trials registers on 14 November 2021, together with reference checking, citation searching, and contact with study authors to identify additional studies. We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of 12 weeks or more in adults at high risk of CVD and those with established CVD. We explored four comparisons: MBIs versus active comparators (alternative interventions); MBIs versus non-active comparators (no intervention, wait list, usual care); TM versus active comparators; TM versus non-active comparators. We used standard Cochrane methods. Our primary outcomes were CVD clinical events (e.g. cardiovascular mortality), blood pressure, measures of psychological distress and well-being, and adverse events. Secondary outcomes included other CVD risk factors (e.g. blood lipid levels), quality of life, and coping abilities. We used GRADE to assess the certainty of evidence.

We included 81 RCTs (6971 participants), with most studies at unclear risk of bias. MBIs versus active comparators (29 RCTs, 2883 participants) Systolic (SBP) and diastolic (DBP) blood pressure were reported in six trials (388 participants) where heterogeneity was considerable (SBP: MD -6.08 mmHg, 95% CI -12.79 to 0.63, I2 = 88%; DBP: MD -5.18 mmHg, 95% CI -10.65 to 0.29, I2 = 91%; both outcomes based on low-certainty evidence). There was little or no effect of MBIs on anxiety (SMD -0.06 units, 95% CI -0.25 to 0.13; I2 = 0%; 9 trials, 438 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), or depression (SMD 0.08 units, 95% CI -0.08 to 0.24; I2 = 0%; 11 trials, 595 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). Perceived stress was reduced with MBIs (SMD -0.24 units, 95% CI -0.45 to -0.03; I2 = 0%; P = 0.03; 6 trials, 357 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). There was little to no effect on well-being (SMD -0.18 units, 95% CI -0.67 to 0.32; 1 trial, 63 participants; low-certainty evidence). There was little to no effect on smoking cessation (RR 1.45, 95% CI 0.78 to 2.68; I2 = 79%; 6 trials, 1087 participants; low-certainty evidence). None of the trials reported CVD clinical events or adverse events. MBIs versus non-active comparators (38 RCTs, 2905 participants) Clinical events were reported in one trial (110 participants), providing very low-certainty evidence (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.37 to 2.42). SBP and DBP were reduced in nine trials (379 participants) but heterogeneity was substantial (SBP: MD -6.62 mmHg, 95% CI -13.15 to -0.1, I2 = 87%; DBP: MD -3.35 mmHg, 95% CI -5.86 to -0.85, I2 = 61%; both outcomes based on low-certainty evidence). There was low-certainty evidence of reductions in anxiety (SMD -0.78 units, 95% CI -1.09 to -0.41; I2 = 61%; 9 trials, 533 participants; low-certainty evidence), depression (SMD -0.66 units, 95% CI -0.91 to -0.41; I2 = 67%; 15 trials, 912 participants; low-certainty evidence) and perceived stress (SMD -0.59 units, 95% CI -0.89 to -0.29; I2 = 70%; 11 trials, 708 participants; low-certainty evidence) but heterogeneity was substantial. Well-being increased (SMD 0.5 units, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.91; I2 = 47%; 2 trials, 198 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). There was little to no effect on smoking cessation (RR 1.36, 95% CI 0.86 to 2.13; I2 = 0%; 2 trials, 453 participants; low-certainty evidence). One small study (18 participants) reported two adverse events in the MBI group, which were not regarded as serious by the study investigators (RR 5.0, 95% CI 0.27 to 91.52; low-certainty evidence). No subgroup effects were seen for SBP, DBP, anxiety, depression, or perceived stress by primary and secondary prevention. TM versus active comparators (8 RCTs, 830 participants) Clinical events were reported in one trial (201 participants) based on low-certainty evidence (RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.56 to 1.49). SBP was reduced (MD -2.33 mmHg, 95% CI -3.99 to -0.68; I2 = 2%; 8 trials, 774 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), with an uncertain effect on DBP (MD -1.15 mmHg, 95% CI -2.85 to 0.55; I2 = 53%; low-certainty evidence). There was little or no effect on anxiety (SMD 0.06 units, 95% CI -0.22 to 0.33; I2 = 0%; 3 trials, 200 participants; low-certainty evidence), depression (SMD -0.12 units, 95% CI -0.31 to 0.07; I2 = 0%; 5 trials, 421 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), or perceived stress (SMD 0.04 units, 95% CI -0.49 to 0.57; I2 = 70%; 3 trials, 194 participants; very low-certainty evidence). None of the trials reported adverse events or smoking rates. No subgroup effects were seen for SBP or DBP by primary and secondary prevention. TM versus non-active comparators (2 RCTs, 186 participants) Two trials (139 participants) reported blood pressure, where reductions were seen in SBP (MD -6.34 mmHg, 95% CI -9.86 to -2.81; I2 = 0%; low-certainty evidence) and DBP (MD -5.13 mmHg, 95% CI -9.07 to -1.19; I2 = 18%; very low-certainty evidence). One trial (112 participants) reported anxiety and depression and found reductions in both (anxiety SMD -0.71 units, 95% CI -1.09 to -0.32; depression SMD -0.48 units, 95% CI -0.86 to -0.11; low-certainty evidence). None of the trials reported CVD clinical events, adverse events, or smoking rates.

We concluded that despite the large number of studies included in the review, heterogeneity was substantial for many of the outcomes, which reduced the certainty of our findings. We attempted to address this by presenting four main comparisons of MBIs or TM versus active or inactive comparators, and by subgroup analyses according to primary or secondary prevention, where there were sufficient studies. The majority of studies were small and there was unclear risk of bias for most domains. Overall, we found very little information on the effects of meditation on CVD clinical endpoints, and limited information on blood pressure and psychological outcomes, for people at risk of or with established CVD. This is a very active area of research as shown by the large number of ongoing studies, with some having been completed at the time of writing this review. The status of all ongoing studies will be formally assessed and incorporated in further updates.

Some people will say that meditation is not a form of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) but rather an aspect of lifestyle used for relaxation and well-being. As such, it should not be scrutinized like a therapy. This might be partly true, but as soon as proper health claims are made for meditation or similar modalities, they do need to be tested like any other therapy, in my view.

As our review demonstrates, meditation and similar treatments are not nearly as well supported by evidence as their proponents try to make us believe. In other words, the often-voiced claims that such therapies are effective for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease are largely unfounded.

This study investigated whether Tongxinluo,a traditional Chinese medicine compound that has shown promise in in vitro, animal, and small human studies for myocardial infarction, could improve clinical outcomes in patients with ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial was conducted among patients with STEMI within 24 hours of symptom onset from 124 hospitals in China. Patients were enrolled from May 2019 to December 2020; the last date of follow-up was December 15, 2021.

Patients were randomized 1:1 to receive either Tongxinluo or placebo orally for 12 months. A loading dose of 2.08 g was given after randomization, followed by the maintenance dose of 1.04 g, 3 times a day, in addition to STEMI guideline-directed treatments. The primary end point was 30-day major adverse cardiac and cerebrovascular events (MACCEs), a composite of cardiac death, myocardial reinfarction, emergent coronary revascularization, and stroke. Follow-up for MACCEs occurred every 3 months to 1 year.

Among 3797 patients who were randomized, 3777 (Tongxinluo: 1889 and placebo: 1888; mean age, 61 years; 76.9% male) were included in the primary analysis. Thirty-day MACCEs occurred in 64 patients (3.4%) in the Tongxinluo group vs 99 patients (5.2%) in the control group. Individual components of 30-day MACCEs, including cardiac death, were also significantly lower in the Tongxinluo group than the placebo group. By 1 year, the Tongxinluo group continued to have lower rates of MACCEs and cardiac death. There were no significant differences in other secondary end points including 30-day stroke; major bleeding at 30 days and 1 year; 1-year all-cause mortality; and in-stent thrombosis. More adverse drug reactions occurred in the Tongxinluo group than the placebo group, mainly driven by gastrointestinal symptoms.

The authors concluded that in patients with STEMI, the Chinese patent medicine Tongxinluo, as an adjunctive therapy in addition to STEMI guideline-directed treatments, significantly improved both 30-day and 1-year clinical outcomes. Further research is needed to determine the mechanism of action of Tongxinluo in STEMI.

Tongxinluo is mixture of various active ingredients, including

  • ginseng,
  • leech,
  • scorpion,
  • Paeonia lactiflora,
  • cicada slough,
  • woodlouse bug,
  • centipede,
  • sandalwood.

With chaotic mixtures of this type, it is impossible to name all the potentially active ingredients, list their actions, or identify the ones that are truly relevant. According to the thinking of TCM proponents, this would also be the wrong way to go about it – such mixtures work as a whole, they would insist.

Tongxinluo is by no means a mixture that has not been studied before.

A previous systematic review of 12 studies found that Tongxinluo capsule is superior to conventional treatment in improving clinical overall response rate and hemorheological indexes and is relatively safe. Due to the deficiencies of the existing studies, more high-quality studies with rigorous design are required for further verification.

A 2022 meta-analysis indicated that the mixture had beneficial effects on the prevention of cardiovascular adverse events, especially in TVR or ISR after coronary revascularization and may possibly lower the incidence of first or recurrent MI and HF within 12 months in patients with CHD, while insufficient sample size implied that these results lacked certain stability. And the effects of TXLC on cardiovascular mortality, cerebrovascular events, and unscheduled readmission for CVDs could not be confirmed due to insufficient cases. Clinical trials with large-sample sizes and extended follow-up time are of interest in the future researches.

A further meta-analysis suggested beneficial effects on reducing the adverse cardiovascular events without compromising safety for CHD patients after PCI on the 6-month course.

Finally, a systematic review of 10 studies found that the remedy is an effective and safe therapy for CHD patients after percutaneous coronary interventions.

So, should we believe the new study with its remarkable findings? On the one hand, the trial seems rigorous and is reported in much detail. On the other hand, the study (as all previous trials of this mixture) originates from China. We know how important TCM is for that country as an export item, and we know how notoriously unreliable Chinese research sadly has become. In view of this, I would like to see an independent replication of this study by an established research group outside China before I recommend Tongxinluo to anyone.

Let’s not forget:

if it sound too good to be true, it probably is!


This systematic review aimed to assess the impact of Tai Chi on individuals with essential hypertension and to compare the effects of Tai Chi with other therapies. The researchers conducted a systematic literature search of the Medline, Scholar, Elsevier, Wiley Online Library, Chinese Academic Journal (CNKI) and Wanfang databases from January 2003 to August 2023. Using the methods of the Cochrane Collaboration Handbook, a meta-analysis was conducted to assess the collective impact of Tai Chi exercise in controlling hypertension. The primary outcomes measured included blood pressure and nitric oxide levels.

A total of 32 RCTs were included. The participants consisted of adults with an average age of 57.1 years who had hypertension (mean ± standard deviation systolic blood pressure at 148.2 ± 12.1 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure at 89.2 ± 8.3 mmHg). Individuals who practiced Tai Chi experienced reductions in systolic blood pressure of 10.6 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure of 4.7 mmHg and an increase in nitric oxide levels.

The authors concluded that Tai Chi can be a viable lifestyle intervention for managing hypertension. Greater promotion of Tai Chi by medical professionals could extend these benefits to a larger patient population.

Tai Chi allegedly incorporates principles rooted in the Yin and Yang theory, Chinese medicine meridians and breathing techniques, and creates a unique form of exercise characterized by its inward focus, continuous flow, the balance of strength and gentleness, and alternation between fast and slow movements.  What sets Tai Chi apart from other forms of excercise is the requirement for mindful guidance during practice. This aspect may, according to the authors, be the reason why Tai Chi also outperforms general aerobic exercise in managing hypertension.

I can well imagine that any form of relaxation reduces blood pressure. What I find hard to believe is that Tai Chi is better than any other relaxing SCAMs. The 32 RCTs included in this new review fail to impress me because they are all from China, and – as we have often mentioned before – studies from China are to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Yet, the subject is important enough, in my view, to merit a few rigorous trials conducted by independent researchers. Until such data are available, I think, I prefer to rely on our own systematic review which conculded that the evidence for tai chi in reducing blood pressure … is limited. Whether tai chi has benefits over exercise is still unclear. The number of trials and the total sample size are too small to draw any firm conclusions.




As we have recently discussed diet and its effects on health, it seems reasonable to ask whether there is a diet that is demonstrably healthy. A recent investigation attempted to answer this question.

This study was aimed at developing a healthy diet score that is associated with health outcomes and is globally applicable. It used data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study and tried to replicate it in five independent studies on a total of 245 000 people from 80 countries.

A healthy diet score was developed on the basis of the data from 147 642 people from the general population, from 21 countries in the PURE study. The consistency of the associations of the score with events was examined in five large independent studies from 70 countries.

The healthy diet score was developed based on six foods each of which has been associated with a significantly lower risk of mortality [i.e. fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, and dairy (mainly whole-fat); range of scores, 0–6]. The main outcome measures were all-cause mortality and major cardiovascular events [cardiovascular disease (CVD)].

During a median follow-up of 9.3 years in PURE, compared with a diet score of ≤1 point, a diet score of ≥5 points was associated with a lower risk of:

  • mortality [hazard ratio (HR) 0.70; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.63–0.77)],
  • CVD (HR 0.82; 0.75–0.91),
  • myocardial infarction (HR 0.86; 0.75–0.99),
  • stroke (HR 0.81; 0.71–0.93).

In three independent studies with vascular patients, similar results were found, with a higher diet score being associated with lower mortality (HR 0.73; 0.66–0.81), CVD (HR 0.79; 0.72–0.87), myocardial infarction (HR 0.85; 0.71–0.99), and a non-statistically significant lower risk of stroke (HR 0.87; 0.73–1.03). Additionally, in two case-control studies, a higher diet score was associated with lower first myocardial infarction [odds ratio (OR) 0.72; 0.65–0.80] and stroke (OR 0.57; 0.50–0.65). A higher diet score was associated with a significantly lower risk of death or CVD in regions with lower than with higher gross national incomes (P for heterogeneity <0.0001). The PURE score showed slightly stronger associations with death or CVD than several other common diet scores (P < 0.001 for each comparison).

Association of Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology healthy diet score vs. Events in those with and without prior cardiovascular disease in the four independent prospective studies (n = 191 476). Hazard ratios (95%) are per 20 percentile increment in the diet score. Hazard ratios (95% CI) are multivariable adjusted.

The authors concluded that consumption of a diet comprised of higher amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and a moderate amount of fish and whole-fat dairy is associated with a lower risk of CVD and mortality in all world regions, but especially in countries with lower income where consumption of these natural foods is low. Similar associations were found with the inclusion of meat or whole grain consumption in the diet score (in the ranges common in the six studies that we included). Our findings indicate that the risks of deaths and vascular events in adults globally are higher with inadequate intake of protective foods.

The authors rightly stress that their analyses have a number of limitations:

First, diet (as in most large epidemiologic studies) was self-reported and variations in reporting might lead to random errors that could dilute real associations between diet scores and clinical outcomes. Therefore, the beneficial effects of a healthier diet may be larger than estimated.

Second, the researchers did not examine the role of individual types of fruits and vegetables as components in the diet score, since the power to detect associations of the different types of fruits and vegetables vs. CVD or mortality is low (i.e. given that the number of events per type of fruit and vegetable was relatively low). Recent evidence suggests that bioactive compounds and, in particular, polyphenols which are found in certain fruit or vegetables (e.g. berries, spinach, and beans) may be especially protective against CVD.

Third, in observational studies, the possibility of residual confounding from unquantified or imprecise measurement of covariates cannot be ruled out—especially given that the differences in risk of clinical events are modest (∼10%–20% relative differences). Ideally, large randomized trials would be needed to clarify the clinical impact on events of a policy of proposing a dietary pattern in populations.

Fourth, the use of the median intake of each food component as a cut-off in the scoring scheme for each diet may not reflect the full range of consumption or provide a meaningful indicator of consumption associated with the disease. However, the use of quintiles instead of medians within each study or within each region yielded the same results indicating the robustness of our findings.

Fifth, the level of intake to meet the cut-off threshold for each food group in the diet score may differ between countries. However, in sensitivity analyses where region-specific median cut-offs were used to classify participants on each component of the diet score, the results were similar to using the overall cohort median of each food component. Further, with unprocessed red meat and whole grains included or excluded from the diet score in these sensitivity analyses, the results were again similar.

Sixth, misclassification of exposures cannot be ruled out as repeat measures of diet were not available in all studies. However, the ORIGIN study, in which repeat diet assessments at 2 years were conducted, showed similar results based on the first vs. second diet assessments. This indicates that misclassification of dietary intake during follow-up was not undermining the findings.

Seventh, one unique aspect of the study is the focus on only protective foods, i.e. a dietary pattern score that highlights what is missing from the food supply, especially in poorer world regions, but this does not negate the importance of limiting the consumption of harmful foods such as highly processed foods. While the PURE diet score had significantly stronger associations with events than other diet scores, the HRs were only slightly larger for PURE than for most other diet scores. However, the Planetary score was the least predictive of events. The analyses provide empirical evidence that all diet scores (other than the Planetary diet score) are of value to predicting death or CVD globally and in all regions of the world.

So, what should we, according to these findings, be looking for and how much of it should we consume? Here is the table that should answer these questions:

Fruits and vegetables 4 to 5 servings daily 1 medium apple, banana, pear; 1 cup leafy vegs; 1/2 cup other vegs
Legumes 3 to 4 servings weekly 1/2 cup beans or lentils
Nuts 7 servings weekly 1 oz., tree nuts or peanuts
Fish 2 to 3 servings weekly 3 oz. cooked (pack of cards size)
Dairy 14 servings weekly 1 cup milk or yogurt; 1 ½ oz cheese
Whole grainsc Moderate amounts (e.g. 1 serving daily) can be part of a healthy diet 1 slice (40 g) bread; ½ medium (40 g) flatbread; ½ cup (75–120 g) cooked rice, barley, buckwheat, semolina, polenta, bulgur, or quinoa
Unprocessed meatsc Moderate amounts (e.g. 1 serving daily) can be part of a healthy diet 3 oz. cooked red meat or poultry

The ‘keto diet’ is a currently popular high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet; it limits the intake of glucose which results in the production of ketones by the liver and their uptake as an alternative energy source by the brain. It is said to be an effective treatment for intractable epilepsy. In addition, it is being promoted as a so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for a wide range of conditions, including:

  • weight loss,
  • cognitive and memory enhancement,
  • type II diabetes,
  • cancer,
  • neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Now, it has been reported that the ‘keto diet’ may be linked to higher levels of cholesterol and double the risk of cardiovascular events. In the study, researchers defined a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet as 45% of total daily calories coming from fat and 25% coming from carbohydrates. The study, which has so far not been peer-reviewed, was presented Sunday at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology.

“Our study rationale came from the fact that we would see patients in our cardiovascular prevention clinic with severe hypercholesterolemia following this diet,” said Dr. Iulia Iatan from the Healthy Heart Program Prevention Clinic, St. Paul’s Hospital, and University of British Columbia’s Centre for Heart Lung Innovation in Vancouver, Canada, during a presentation at the session. “This led us to wonder about the relationship between these low-carb, high-fat diets, lipid levels, and cardiovascular disease. And so, despite this, there’s limited data on this relationship.”

The researchers compared the diets of 305 people eating an LCHF diet with about 1,200 people eating a standard diet, using health information from the United Kingdom database UK Biobank, which followed people for at least a decade. They found that people on the LCHF diet had higher levels of low-density lipoprotein and apolipoprotein B. Apolipoprotein B is a protein that coats LDL cholesterol proteins and can predict heart disease better than elevated levels of LDL cholesterol can. The researchers also noticed that the LCHF diet participants’ total fat intake was higher in saturated fat and had double the consumption of animal sources (33%) compared to those in the control group (16%). “After an average of 11.8 years of follow-up – and after adjustment for other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking – people on an LCHF diet had more than two times higher risk of having several major cardiovascular events, such as blockages in the arteries that needed to be opened with stenting procedures, heart attack, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease.” Their press release also cautioned that their study “can only show an association between the diet and an increased risk for major cardiac events, not a causal relationship,” because it was an observational study, but their findings are worth further investigation, “especially when approximately 1 in 5 Americans report being on a low-carb, keto-like or full keto diet.”

I have to say that I find these findings not in the slightest bit surprising and would fully expect the relationship to be causal. The current craze for this diet is concerning and we need to warn consumers that they might be doing themselves considerable harm.

Other authors have recently pointed out that, within the first 6-12 months of initiating the keto diet, transient decreases in blood pressure, triglycerides, and glycosylated hemoglobin, as well as increases in HDL and weight loss may be observed. However, the aforementioned effects are generally not seen after 12 months of therapy. Despite the diet’s favorable effect on HDL-C, the concomitant increases in LDL-C and very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) may lead to increased cardiovascular risks. And another team of researchers has warned that “given often-temporary improvements, unfavorable effects on dietary intake, and inadequate data demonstrating long-term safety, for most individuals, the risks of ketogenic diets may outweigh the benefits.”

The concept of ultra-processed food (UPF) was initially developed and the term coined by the Brazilian nutrition researcher Carlos Monteiro, with his team at the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health (NUPENS) at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. They argue that “the issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing,” and “from the point of view of human health, at present, the most salient division of food and drinks is in terms of their type, degree, and purpose of processing.”

Examples of UPF include:

Ultra-processed food is bad for our health! This message is clear and has been voiced so many times – not least by proponents of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – that most people should now understand it.

But how bad?

And what diseases does UPF promote?

How strong is the evidence?

I did a quick Medline search and was overwhelmed by the amount of research on this subject. In 2022 alone, there were more than 2000 publications! Here are the conclusions from just a few recent studies on the subject:

Don’t get me wrong: this is not a systematic review of the subject. I am merely trying to give a rough impression of the research that is emerging. A few thoughts seem nonetheless appropriate.

  1. The research on this subject is intense.
  2. Even though most studies disclose associations and not causal links, there is in my view no question that UPF aggravates many diseases.
  3. The findings of the current research are highly consistent and point to harm done to most organs.
  4. Even though this is a subject on which advocates of SCAM are exceedingly keen, none of the research I saw was conducted by SCAM researchers.
  5. The view of many SCAM proponents that conventional medicine does not care about nutrition is clearly not correct.
  6. Considering how unhealthy UPF is, there seems to be a lack of effective education and action aimed at preventing the harm UPF does to us.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to seven companies for illegally selling dietary supplements that claim to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent cardiovascular disease or related conditions, such as atherosclerosis, stroke or heart failure, in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). The FDA is urging consumers not to use these or similar products because they have not been evaluated by the FDA to be safe or effective for their intended use and may be harmful.

The warning letters were issued to:

“Given that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., it’s important that the FDA protect the public from products and companies that make unlawful claims to treat it. Dietary supplements that claim to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent cardiovascular disease and related conditions could potentially harm consumers who use these products instead of seeking safe and effective FDA-approved treatments from qualified health care providers,” said Cara Welch, Ph.D., director of the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “We encourage consumers to remain vigilant when shopping online or in stores to avoid purchasing products that could put their health at risk.”

Under the FD&C Act, products intended to diagnose, cure, treat, mitigate or prevent disease are drugs and are subject to the requirements that apply to drugs, even if they are labeled as dietary supplements. Unlike drugs approved by the FDA, the agency has not evaluated whether the unapproved products subject to the warning letters announced today are effective for their intended use, what the proper dosage might be, how they could interact with FDA-approved drugs or other substances, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.

The FDA advises consumers to talk to their doctor, pharmacist or other health care provider before deciding to purchase or use any dietary supplement or drug. Some supplements might interact with medicines or other supplements. Health care providers will work with patients to determine which treatment is the best option for their condition.

If a consumer thinks that a product might have caused a reaction or an illness, they should immediately stop using the product and contact their health care provider. The FDA encourages health care providers and consumers to report any adverse reactions associated with FDA-regulated products to the agency using MedWatch or the Safety Reporting Portal.

The FDA has requested responses from the companies within 15 working days stating how they will address the issues described in the warning letters or provide their reasoning and supporting information as to why they think the products are not in violation of the law. Failure to correct violations promptly may result in legal action, including product seizure and/or injunction.

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