CardioBriefs: Red meat, antagonistic people, and chocolate

The following items are republished with permission from CardioExchange, a new website for cardiovascular healthcare professionals from the New England Journal of Medicine. CardioBrief readers who are healthcare professionals are invited to join the site.

A Treat for Chocolate Lovers from Sweden

In a report that will surely provide comfort to millions, a study of 31,823 Swedish women found that over 9 years of follow-up, women who regularly consumed moderate amounts of chocolate had a lower risk for developing heart failure than those who ate no chocolate at all. However, no protective effect was observed in women who consumed chocolate one or more times per day. In their paper in Circulation: Heart Failure, Elizabeth Mostofsky and colleagues note that the high-quality chocolate consumed in Sweden contained higher cocoa concentrations, which has been linked to beneficial cardiovascular effects, than chocolate consumed in the United States.

“You can’t ignore that chocolate is a relatively calorie-dense food and large amounts of habitual consumption is going to raise your risks for weight gain,” said the paper’s senior author, Murray Mittleman, in an AHA press release. “But if you’re going to have a treat, dark chocolate is probably a good choice, as long as it’s in moderation.”

“Those tempted to use these data as their rationale for eating large amounts of chocolate or engaging in more frequent chocolate consumption are not interpreting this study appropriately,” said Linda Van Horn, the immediate past chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee, in the AHA press release. “This is not an ‘eat all you want’ take-home message, rather it’s that eating a little dark chocolate can be healthful, as long as other adverse behaviors do not occur, such as weight gain or excessive intake of non-nutrient dense ‘empty’ calories.”

Study Suggests Benefits in Replacing Red Meat with Healthful Alternatives

New data from the Nurses’ Health Study suggest that replacing red meat with healthier protein alternatives may reduce the risk for heart disease. Adam Bernstein and colleagues, writing in Circulation, found that women who replaced one daily serving of red meat with a serving of poultry, fish, nuts, or low-fat dairy had significantly lower risk. They observed a 30% lower risk associated with one daily serving of nuts, a 24% reduction with fish, a 19% reduction with poultry, and a 13% reduction with low-fat dairy products.

“There are good protein-rich sources that do not involve red meat,” said Bernstein in an AHA press release. “Although this study included only women, our overall knowledge of risk factors for heart disease suggests that the findings are likely to apply to men as well.”

Antagonistic People and Carotid Narrowing

Researchers from the NIH’s National Institute on Aging studied 5,614 people in four Italian villages and found that those who scored high on a test of antagonism — particularly those who were manipulative and aggressive — were more likely than their more agreeable counterparts to have carotid thickening, as measured by carotid-artery intima media thickness, and were more likely to have greater progression of the thickening over 3 years. Angelina Sutin and colleagues also found that women who were antagonistic had  similar carotid thickening as men. The researchers said the effect of having antagonistic traits  was similar in magnitude to the effect of metabolic syndrome.

In their report in Hypertension, the researchers discussed the clinical implications of their study:

Whereas personality traits, such as antagonism, are basic tendencies that are resistant to change, the expression of these traits, or their characteristic adaptations, is modifiable. Determining which personality traits contribute to arterial thickening will help to identify who is most at risk and who would benefit most from targeted interventions. Interventions aimed at modifying coping mechanisms, improving anger management as well as other behavioral, emotional, and cognitive expressions of trait antagonism (including unhealthy lifestyles), can play an important role in clinical practice.

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