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Survey Shows 1 in 5 Adults Believe Heart Health Isn't Affected by Diet

Survey Shows 1 in 5 Adults Believe Heart Health Isn't Affected by Diet

A new survey aims to dispel common myths about heart health.

Luckily, diets that support a healthy heart are in vogue right now: Just think about the exploding popularity of the Mediterranean diet, as well as an uptick in programs like the Ornish diet, for those struggling with cardiovascular issues. But a new survey shows that many Americans still don't understand how poor diets can lead to health scares like heart attacks or strokes.

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The survey, conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, asked 1,002 men and women ages 18 to 73 about cardiovascular health issues, revealing that many had misconceptions about how a diet can lead to more than just weight gain or loss. Steven Nissen, M.D., the chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told Runner's World that misconceptions may cause people to lose touch with how their decisions could affect them in the long run.

Results showed that 88 percent of those surveyed understood that a healthy weight could lead to a healthy heart, and roughly 75 percent said they were "concerned" about their weight as well. But a whopping 18 percent also reported that their diet had nothing to do with overall cardiovascular health, which shows that Americans may not understand how to improve their heart health after all.

Plus, another 42 percent reported that they believe being overweight wouldn't affect their heart health if they maintained an exercise routine, without actually losing any weight. The same survey showed, furthermore, that 87 percent of respondents didn't understand that obesity is linked to cancer; and another 80 percent didn't know that obesity could also raise risk of atrial fibrillation.

“Weight can be a complex issue and [is] a sensitive one for many people,” Nissen told Runner's World. “One problem is that a lot of misinformation about diet, wellness and exercise exists, and that has led to confusion. Because of this, many people may get frustrated with their efforts or not start a weight loss program in the first place.”

The survey found that almost 33 percent of respondents said they attempted diets—but only for a week or two. Plus, respondents didn't understand how much weight they'd need to lose in order to make improvements (many believed it would be much more substantial than it actually is).

“There is poor understanding of the relationship between body weight and health,” Nissen said. “Unfortunately, many people seem paralyzed by this lack of knowledge. The positive news is that people only need to lose about 5 percent of body weight to see significant health impacts.”

Survey Reveals Beliefs, Behaviors on Alzheimer’s

People recognize the seriousness of Alzheimer’s disease, but they aren’t taking steps to learn about their personal chances of getting the disease or to prepare for it financially, according to a new survey.

The WebMD and Shriver Report Snapshot: “Insight Into Alzheimer’s Attitudes and Behaviors,” asked more than 4,200 WebMD readers their beliefs and experiences regarding the disease.

“It’s incredibly tough to think about losing your mind or watching a loved one struggle with Alzheimer’s,” says Michael Smith, MD, WebMD’s chief medical editor. “There is great concern about the impact of this disease, but denial, fear or other unknown factors seem to be preventing us from taking the necessary steps to prepare.”

Still, many people say they are taking actions to stay healthy that might benefit their brains as they age.

An estimated 1 in 9 people over 65 (11%) have Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. As the population ages, however, those numbers are expected to nearly triple by 2050.

“The first baby boomers are turning 70 this year. The risk for Alzheimer’s begins to increase dramatically at the age of 65, and goes up until age 90 or so, maybe even after that,” says Keith Fargo, PhD, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association. “We’re facing a wave of dementia coming our way in the coming decade — and it’s starting now, not 30-40 years from now.”

Finances and Prevention

Although the lifetime cost of care for someone with Alzheimer’s is an estimated $ 174,000, most survey respondents say they aren’t prepared:

  • 71% say their family is not financially equipped to deal with the disease
  • 66% believe Alzheimer’s could harm their family financially

“It’s really critical for people to plan ahead,” Fargo says. “There are lots of things that people can do now to get ready for possible cognitive decline or dementia, whether that’s due to Alzheimer’s or something else.”

Those preparations should include educating yourself on the availability of long-term care insurance and those options, as well as the role of Medicare and Medicaid, he says.

The survey also shows a disconnect in how much respondents really want to know about their risk of getting the disease — it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and has no cure. Two-thirds of people say they’d want to know their risk for developing Alzheimer’s later in life. But when presented with a list of ways to do that, a much smaller percentage say they have taken or would take steps to do it.

  • Reviewing family history with their doctor (42%)
  • Reviewing lifestyle factors like diet and exercise with their doctor (40%)
  • Reviewing medical history with their doctor, including questions about brain trauma (31%)
  • Taking a genetic test to determine whether they have genes that raise their odds of getting the disease (25%)
  • Getting a brain scan to spot signs of the disease (22%)

Forty-one percent say they haven’t — or aren’t willing to — take any of the proposed steps.

Another 46% say they aren’t worried about getting Alzheimer’s in the future, mainly because they take care of their health and also because they can’t do anything about it.

“Most people probably don’t want to think about developing a chronic disease, especially Alzheimer’s, which is universally fatal,” Fargo says. “Once you’re into the dementia part of Alzheimer’s, that’s not going to get better.”

Thirty-four percent of respondents say they’re concerned about getting the disease in the future. Of those, 69% say they’re concerned because they don’t want to become a burden to their family, with 60% concerned because there’s no cure.

Doctors also believe there isn’t much that can be done to avoid the disease, according to a survey of doctors conducted by WebMD’s sister site, Medscape. Only 29% of the 403 surveyed say they believe it’s possible to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, although 77% think it’s possible to slow its progression.

“Certainly, it’s something people should be worried about, especially given the fact that right now there’s nothing that can be done to reverse it,” Fargo says. “Once you have Alzheimer’s disease … right now, that’s a death sentence. Some of these other things are more manageable. Cancer, heart disease, stroke, all those are survivable, at least in some cases.”

Fargo says people may not realize they can lower their risk. “There are many actions you can take — stop smoking, exercise, and more,” he says. “All of those things are known to reduce the risk of cognitive decline in aging and may prevent or at least delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. These are actions that people can take, literally in their living rooms, on a daily basis.”

Many people say they are trying to stay physically and mentally healthy — steps that may ultimately help lower their Alzheimer’s risk.

  • Staying mentally or intellectually active (74%)
  • Eating a healthy diet (64%)
  • Taking vitamins or supplements (59%)
  • Exercising (56%)
  • Staying socially active (54%)

Alzheimer’s has been called a family disease because family members are so often involved in caregiving. For every person with Alzheimer’s, three people are providing informal care to them, Fargo says. Those most often are family and friends.

In the survey, more than 1 in 5 people (22%) who know someone with Alzheimer’s also say they’ve taken on caregiving responsibilities, either currently or in the past, for someone with the disease. That was most commonly a parent (41%).

  • 28% say they spent more than 40 hours a week on caregiving duties.
  • 63% say that time came out of their own family or personal time.
  • 21% have worked fewer hours at a job because of caregiving.
  • More than 1 in 5 have scaled back their working hours to care for the person with Alzheimer’s.
  • 73% have searched for a better or safer living situation for the person they’re caring for.
  • 64% have created or updated wills and assumed power of attorney.

“Caregiving comes at such great personal cost,” Smith says. “It’s like tacking on another part- or full-time job while still having to do everything else you did before. The stress that stems from this has far-reaching effects on both the caregiver’s health and finances.”

Meanwhile, 22% of people who aren’t currently a caregiver say they expect they would be the person responsible for the majority of caregiving if their parent or grandparent was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents say they know or have known someone with Alzheimer’s. That was most likely to be a friend, associate, or work colleague (41%).

That may be why most people in the survey are informed about the disease. The vast majority of respondents know that Alzheimer’s can strike people in their 40s, and most also know it begins affecting the brain some 20 years before you get the symptoms.

Fargo called it a step in the right direction that two-thirds of people realize Alzheimer’s is fatal. “Ten years ago, people may not have said that. It may just be, ‘Mom’s slipping,’ or ‘Dad’s getting older and it’s showing.’ Many people do expect cognitive decline as they age, so that’s an understandable misconception, but it is a misconception.”

But the survey takers aren’t as sure about who gets the disease:

  • 47% say they believe it strikes men and women equally. Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • 67% don’t know that African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to get it than whites.


The youngest respondents were 374 people 18 to 34 years old. Although millennials say they’re more likely than any other age group to be “caregivers on deck” (32%), they are also the least likely to be financially prepared.

  • 66% say they haven’t considered the disease’s financial implications.
  • 66% say they believe costs related to Alzheimer’s could harm their family financially.

“This is something millennials are dealing with now,” Fargo says, noting that about a quarter of a million people ages 8 to 18 help provide informal care, usually for an elderly family member. The survey found that 19% of them are a caregiver or had been one in the past.

Asked when they believe there will be a cure for Alzheimer’s, nearly half of all respondents — 48% — say they aren’t sure. Another 22% predict there will be a cure by the year 2025, and 17% say by the year 2050.

More than 3 in 4, or 76%, say they know the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Far fewer, only 38%, say they’re aware of treatments for the disease. Although treatments are available, none of them cure the disease or stop it from getting worse.

But Fargo says the Alzheimer’s research community is “actually more optimistic than ever.” He says that last year Congress voted to increase research funding for the disease by $ 350 million per year, to nearly $ 1 billion. But that’s half of what the scientific community says it needs, he says.

The association and others continue to call for more research dollars. “We believe that’s where the answer will come from, the scientific field … as many smart people working on this as we can.”

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A Cleveland Clinic survey finds that while most Americans (88 percent) understand that there is a connection between a healthy heart and a healthy weight, most aren’t doing enough – or anything – to combat their own weight issues. The survey found 74 percent are concerned about their weight and 65 percent are worried about getting heart disease due to extra pounds, yet less than half (43 percent) of Americans have tried to make dietary changes to lose weight and 40 percent of those who describe themselves as overweight or obese say they aren’t careful about which foods they eat.

Part of the problem may be that Americans aren’t sure what to eat for heart health. Nearly one-in-five (18 percent) believe their diet has nothing to do with their heart health, and a mere 14 percent knew that a Mediterranean diet is healthiest for heart health. What’s more, nearly half of Americans (46 percent) believe using artificial sweeteners is a healthy way to lose weight despite studies showing they don’t promote weight loss.

The survey also revealed Americans don’t fully understand the impact excess weight has on their heart and overall health. The overwhelming majority of Americans (87 percent) fail to link obesity to cancer or atrial fibrillation (80 percent). More than half of Americans also don’t know that obesity is linked to high “bad” cholesterol levels (54 percent) or coronary artery disease (57 percent) and two-thirds (64 percent) don’t know it can lead to a stroke.

Steven Nissen, M.D., chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic

“Most Americans understand abstractly that being overweight or obese is not good for your health, but it seems we are not grasping that the leading causes of death and disability – stroke, cancer, coronary artery disease – are all adversely affected by increased weight,” said Steven Nissen, M.D., chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “We need to do a better job of educating patients and the public about the major consequences of carrying excess weight and the benefits of losing weight. A patient only needs to lose five percent of their body weight to start seeing important health benefits.”

Eighty-four percent of Americans say they have tried at least one weight-loss method in the past. About one-third (30 percent) say they typically stick with it between one week and one month. Americans cite dislike of exercise (24 percent) and lack of time (22 percent) as their main barriers to maintaining a healthy weight. Most Americans also believe their metabolism is detrimental to weight loss – 60 percent of women and 46 percent of men say their metabolism is working against them.

A Cleveland Clinic survey finds Americans are concerned about their weight, but they don’t understand the link to heart conditions and overall health. #LoveYourHeart

Read more:

— ClevelandClinicNews (@CleClinicNews) January 31, 2019

“Americans may be correct that their metabolism is thwarting their weight loss efforts,” said Dr. Nissen. “Once you’ve been overweight, your body tries to hold on to that excess fat, making it more difficult to lose weight. It’s best to work with your physician to develop a steady long term weight loss plan that will help you keep off the pounds. Quick weight loss programs are not effective.”

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States and around the world. The survey was conducted as part of Cleveland Clinic’s “Love your Heart” consumer education campaign in celebration of American Heart Month. Cleveland Clinic has been ranked the No. 1 hospital in the country for cardiology and cardiac surgery for 24 years in a row by US News & World Report.

Additional survey findings include:

  • All fat is not created equal: When it comes to body shapes, almost half (45%) falsely believe that all types of fat put you at equal risk for heart disease however, numerous studies have shown that fat stored in the abdomen is the most dangerous.
  • Not feeling the pressure: Most Americans say they are concerned about a family member’s weight (62 percent), or them getting heart disease due to their weight (64%). However, for many, outside pressure to lose the weight doesn’t help. Fifty-seven percent say they don’t need others to tell them to lose weight because they already know they should. Baby Boomers (65 percent) are particularly resistant to others weighing in on their weight.
  • Seeking medical advice: While 44 percent of Americans say they are most likely to turn to their physician for nutrition advice, only a quarter (28 percent) have told their doctor they’d like to lose weight. Even less (22 percent) say they’ve discussed heart health in relation to their weight with their doctor.

According to the CDC, nearly 40 percent of Americans, 93 million people, are obese, and even more are overweight.

For more information and complete survey results, go to: .

Cleveland Clinic’s survey of the general population gathered insights into Americans’ perceptions of heart health and weight. This was an online survey conducted among a national probability sample consisting of 1,002 adults 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States. The total sample data is nationally representative based on age, gender, ethnicity and educational attainment census data. The online survey was conducted by Research Now and completed between September 20 and September 28, 2018. The margin of error for the total sample at the 95% confidence level is +/- 3.1 percentage points.

About Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 52,000 employees are more than 3,600 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 14,000 nurses, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic’s health system includes a 165-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 15 regional hospitals (11 in Ohio, four in Florida), more than 150 northern Ohio outpatient locations – including 18 full-service family health centers and three health and wellness centers – and locations in Las Vegas, Nev. Toronto, Canada Abu Dhabi, UAE and London, England. In 2017, there were 7.6 million outpatient visits, 229,000 hospital admissions and 207,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at Follow us at News and resources available at

Editor’s Note: Cleveland Clinic News Service is available to provide broadcast-quality interviews and B-roll upon request.

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Many Americans continue to experience mental health difficulties as pandemic enters second year

A person bows her head in her hands at a COVID-19 testing site in Boston on July 15, 2020. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

One year into the societal convulsions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, about a fifth of U.S. adults (21%) are experiencing high levels of psychological distress, including nearly three-in-ten (28%) among those who say the outbreak has changed their lives in “a major way.” The share of the public experiencing psychological distress has edged down slightly since March 2020 but remains elevated among some groups in the population. Concerns about both the personal health and the financial threats from the pandemic are associated with high levels of psychological distress.

This assessment of the public’s psychological reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak is based on surveys of members of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP) conducted online several times since March 2020. The mental health questions were included on three surveys. The first survey was conducted with 11,537 U.S. adults March 19-24, 2020 a second survey with the question series was conducted April 20-26, 2020, with a sample of 10,139 adults and the most recent survey was conducted Feb. 16-21, 2021, among 10,121 adults. This analysis also includes questions asked in a survey conducted Jan. 19-24, 2021, with a sample of 10,334 adults.

The ATP is an online survey panel that is recruited through national random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The surveys are weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Here is more information about the ATP.

The psychological distress index used here measures the total amount of mental distress that individuals reported experiencing in the past seven days. The low distress category in the index includes about half of the sample very few in that group said they were experiencing any of the types of distress most or all of the time. The middle category includes roughly one-quarter of the sample, while the high distress category includes 21%, down slightly from 24% in March 2020. A large majority of those in the high distress group reported experiencing at least one type of distress most or all of the time in the past seven days.

The questions used to measure the levels of psychological distress were developed with the help of the COVID-19 and mental health measurement group from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH): M. Daniele Fallin (JHSPH), Calliope Holingue (Kennedy Krieger Institute, JHSPH), Renee Johnson (JHSPH), Luke Kalb (Kennedy Krieger Institute, JHSPH), Frauke Kreuter (University of Maryland, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich), Elizabeth Stuart (JHSPH), Johannes Thrul (JHSPH) and Cindy Veldhuis (Columbia University).

Here are the mental health questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and the detailed survey methodology statements for March 2020, late April 2020 and February 2021.

The index of psychological distress is based on a set of five questions asking about anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, loneliness and physical symptoms of distress. Except for the last item, the questions do not explicitly mention the pandemic. But experts have documented that fear and isolation associated with the pandemic have been responsible for a surge of anxiety and depression over the past year. And on the one item that asks about physical reactions when thinking about coronavirus outbreak – such as sweating, trouble breathing, nausea or a pounding heart – 17% report having such reactions at least “some or a little of the time” in the past week.

The five items were combined to create an index, which was then grouped into three categories: high, medium and low distress. The questions were part of a survey conducted online Feb. 16-21 among 10,121 members of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. Most of those interviewed had also participated in last year’s surveys about reactions to the pandemic.

High levels of distress are being experienced by those who say the coronavirus outbreak is a major threat to their personal financial situation (34% high distress) or to their personal health (28%). Psychological distress is especially common among adults ages 18 to 29 (32%), those with lower family incomes (31%) and those who have a disability or health condition that keeps them from participating fully in work, school, housework or other activities (36%).

The share of adults falling into the high distress group (21%) is now slightly lower than in March of last year: It was 24% then, near the beginning of coronavirus-related lockdowns in the U.S.

Underneath the relative stability of the index, considerable change has occurred. About six-in-ten (61%) of those interviewed in both April 2020 and February 2021 remained in the same category of the index. Just over a fifth (22%) moved from a higher to a lower category of distress, while 16% moved from a lower to a higher category. Of all panelists interviewed in both April 2020 and February 2021, 12% were classified as high in psychological distress in both interviews and 40% were low in both.

Young people have been a particular group of concern during the pandemic for mental health professionals, and young adults stand out in the current survey for exhibiting higher levels of psychological distress than other age groups. The shutdowns have disrupted job opportunities, college experiences, and the mixing and mingling that marks the transition to adulthood. Among adults ages 18 to 29, women (36%) and those with lower incomes (39%) are especially likely to be in the high distress group. In this age group, those who are unmarried fare worse than the married (35% vs. 23% experienced high levels of distress, respectively).

Adults ages 18 to 29 are especially likely to report anxiety, depression or loneliness compared with other age groups. For example, 45% of those under 30 describe being “nervous, anxious or on edge” at least “occasionally or a moderate amount of time” during the past seven days among those 30 and older, 28% do so.

Not surprisingly, psychological distress is higher among those who express concern about becoming ill with COVID-19 or believe that the disease is a major threat to their personal health. Among those who are “very concerned” that they might get infected and require hospitalization, 27% score high in psychological distress, compared with just 14% among those who are not too or not at all concerned. Similarly, 27% of those who see the disease as a major threat to their personal health score high in psychological distress, compared with 11% who say it is not a threat. Distress levels are also higher among those who perceive the sign-up process for a coronavirus vaccine in their area as unfair or who say that it has not been easy to find information about the process.

As much as concern about the health implications of the pandemic may be affecting the mental health status of many Americans, financial troubles are also a strong correlate of psychological distress. Pew Research Center surveys, including this one, have documented the substantial negative impact of the pandemic on the financial situation of many Americans. A January survey found that more than four-in-ten adults said that they or someone in their household had lost a job or wages since the beginning of the outbreak, and significant shares of the unemployed acknowledged the emotional toll it had taken.

Among those interviewed in the current survey who say that the pandemic is a major threat to their personal financial situation, 34% are classified as being in high psychological distress. Even greater levels of distress are observed among those who said in a January interview that they worry about how to pay their bills “every day” (40% high psychological distress) or who said they are in “poor” shape financially (44%).

Note: Here are the mental health questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and the detailed survey methodology statements for March 2020, late April 2020 and February 2021.

Why You Should No Longer Worry About Cholesterol in Food

High levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which have been linked to heart disease, are still a health concern.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But evidence shows people no longer have to be concerned about eating foods that are high in cholesterol. What’s changed is that many researchers and physicians believe that eating cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs may not affect the cholesterol that is in your blood.

“However, people with certain health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich foods,” says cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD.

It’s complicated

Is cholesterol good for you? Is cholesterol bad for you? It’s complicated.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that ultimately ends up in the walls of arteries. It causes the plaque that lead to heart attacks and strokes. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines call for a daily cholesterol limit of 300 milligrams.

The relationship between cholesterol and the body is extremely complicated. Some of the ways its complicated are:

  • The body regulates how much cholesterol is in your blood.
  • There’s different kinds of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol contributes to plaque buildup along with triglycerides, another lipid. High-density lipoprotein or HDL (good) cholesterol discourages plaque buildup.
  • LDL is the bad cholesterol that you should avoid because it can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • The way people process cholesterol differs. Some people appear to be more vulnerable to cholesterol-rich diets.

“Your genetic makeup – not diet – is the driving force behind cholesterol levels, says Dr. Nissen. “The body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than what you can eat, so avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol won’t affect your blood cholesterol levels very much.”

About 85% of the cholesterol in the circulation is manufactured by the body in the liver. It isn’t coming directly from the cholesterol that you eat, according to Dr. Nissen.

It’s also likely that people with family history of heart disease share common environments that may increase their risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What you should worry about

Should you actually worry about cholesterol in food? The greater danger for everyone is in foods that are high in trans fats.

“Those often appear on food labels as hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” he says. “Those types of fats do tend to raise cholesterol and do tend to increase the risk of heart disease.”

All in all, look for trans fat and saturated fat on labels at the grocery store. The American Heart Association recommends limiting dietary saturated fat intake and focusing more on eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean animal protein or plant protein sources.​

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis (ath-uh-roh-skluh-roh-sis), which is the buildup of fatty deposits, or plaques, in the walls of the coronary arteries over many years. The coronary arteries surround the outside of the heart and supply blood nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle. When plaque builds up inside the arteries, there is less space for blood to flow normally and deliver oxygen to the heart. If the flow of blood to your heart is reduced by plaque buildup or is blocked if a plaque suddenly ruptures, it can cause angina (chest pain or discomfort) or a heart attack. When the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen and blood nutrients, the heart muscle cells will die (heart attack) and weaken the heart, diminishing its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.

1 in 9 U.S. Adults Over 45 Reports Memory Issues

FRIDAY, July 13, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- If you're middle-aged and you think you're losing your memory, you're not alone, a new U.S. government report shows.

In fact, one in nine Americans aged 45 and older say they are experiencing thinking declines. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noticing a decline in your mental abilities ("cognitive decline") is one of the earliest signs of impending Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

"Symptoms of confusion and memory loss are not a normal part of aging," said lead researcher Christopher Taylor, a CDC epidemiologist. "Adults with confusion or memory loss should talk to a health care professional who can evaluate their symptoms and discuss possible treatments, management of other co-occurring chronic health conditions, advance care planning, and caregiving needs."

One Alzheimer's expert noted the findings point to an even larger issue.

"This survey is an indicator of the future problem and burden of dementia, and what public health officials should start addressing now," said Matthew Baumgart, senior director of public policy at the Alzheimer's Association.


"This issue is not going away -- we are continuing on a path of a huge problem in the United States, and unless we do something, it's not going to be reversed," said Baumgart.

The CDC researchers also found that more than half of those reporting cognitive decline have difficulty doing everyday things like cooking, cleaning or taking medications.

Baumgart stressed that many people who experience memory lapses will not go on to develop Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

"But many will," he said. "It's a warning sign that something isn't right."

For the study, the researchers used data from the 2015 and 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys.

The investigators found that 11 percent of people aged 45 and older reported having mental decline, and half of those people also said they had limitations performing daily tasks.

Among those aged 45 and older who were living alone, 14 percent said they were suffering from declines in mental function. Among those suffering from a chronic disease, 15 percent reported some cognitive decline, the report showed.


The researchers also found that a greater percentage of people aged 75 and older reported cognitive decline than those aged 45 to 74.

Moreover, only 45 percent of those who said they had memory or other mental issues had spoken about their condition with a doctor, the findings showed.

This is unfortunate because some memory problems are reversible, Baumgart said. In addition, there are things you can do if you have memory problems even if they may not be reversible.

"But if you don't talk to a health care professional about those memory problems in the early stages, you're missing a key window of opportunity," Baumgart said.

On the other hand, more than half of those who had functional limitations said they had talked with their doctor, compared with less than one-third of those without limitations.

This finding suggests that limitations in ability to perform basic tasks of daily living might be a catalyst for people to discuss their problem with a doctor.


Some people might be reluctant to talk about their mental problems because they see these as a normal part of aging, which is a mistaken belief, the researchers pointed out. Having a discussion about possible mental decline is vital, because it can be the first step in planning care options and can help patients manage their health care.

One problem with the study is that the data was self-reported, which can result in inaccuracies, as people incorrectly remember or omit information, the study authors acknowledged.

Dr. Sam Gandy is director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health in New York City. He said, "We know that amyloid plaque, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, begins in the 40s, especially in carriers of the APOE4 gene."

Next, Gandy said, doctors need to be able to predict risk among those with the APOE4 gene if amyloid plaque is present.

"If APOE4 and amyloidosis are both present, the likelihood of cognitive decline is substantial," he said.

The most potent interventions that are believed to slow progression of dementia include optimizing cardiac health and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, including diet and exercise, according to Gandy, who was not involved with the new study.


"But the evidence supporting the benefits of diet and lifestyle is mixed. What this really cries out for are trials of amyloid-reducing agents beginning at age 45 or 50," Gandy added.

The report was published July 13 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Researchers have found that there may be a gene that makes African Americans much more sensitive to the effects of salt, which in turn increases the risk for developing high blood pressure. In people who have this gene, as little as one extra gram (half a teaspoon) of salt could raise blood pressure by as much as five millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

The African American population also tends to have higher rates of obesity and diabetes, which puts them at greater risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. But for many African American women, particularly those who consider themselves perfectly healthy, perception may not always equal reality.

What is the outlook?

The outlook (prognosis) is usually excellent. Both the vitamin levels and the symptoms usually respond well to treatment. However, it can take time (months) for bones to recover and for symptoms such as pain to improve.

The complications of severe deficiency have been mentioned. Rickets can occur in children, and osteomalacia in adults. These diseases affect the strength and appearance of bones, and can lead to permanent bone deformities if untreated or if treatment is delayed.

As well as bone and muscle health, vitamin D deficiency is associated with a number of different conditions. These conditions include diabetes, coronary heart disease, breast cancer, bowel cancer, Alzheimer's disease and many others. The exact significance of these associations isn't yet properly understood.

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