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High BP Rates Rising Among Women?

Rates of uncontrolled hypertension are on the rise among women, and the prevalence of this major risk factor for heart disease and stroke among men is still not as low as it should be, according to a new survey. The findings were culled using data from 2 main ongoing studies, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Majid Ezzati, PhD, lead study author, reported in the February 12, 2008, issue of Circulation that "blood pressure that is higher than optimal is among the leading 2 or 3 risks for cardiovascular disease, if not the leading one."

The researchers found that the rate of uncontrolled high blood pressure (BP) had been steadily declining for decades into the 1990s, and the decline continued for men into the 2000s, dropping from 19% to 17%. Among women, however, the incidence increased from 17% to >22% during that same period.

One hurdle to overcome is patient adherence, noted Dan Jones, MD, president of the American Heart Association: "Patients need to take the medicine on a regular basis and simply fail to do so." Dr. Ezzati noted that other measures such as lowering salt intake, regular testing, more exercise, and lower weight can all help keep BP under control.

?So Make Sure to Drink Low-fat Milk

A recent study suggests that women who regularly consume low-fat milk or yogurt may have a lower risk of developing high blood pressure (BP). The study included 28,886 women aged 45 and older who completed detailed dietary questionnaires at the outset of the study and were followed over a period of 10 years. The findings were reported in the April 2008 issue of Hypertension.

Over the course of the study, 8710 women developed high BP, but the risk was 11% lower among those who consumed the most low-fat dairy, compared with those who consumed the least. Milk and other dairy products with higher fat concentrations, on the other hand, showed no benefit. According to Lu Wang, MD, PhD, lead researcher, and researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, it is possible that the saturated fat in whole milk counteracts any BP benefits of calcium or other dairy nutrients.

The researchers also found a similar BP benefit when they looked at the women's intake of calcium and vitamin D; however, calcium and vitamin D from supplements were unrelated to BP. It is not clear from their results why supplements showed no positive effect on BP, although other research has found greater BP reductions from whole foods, compared with supplements.

Folic Acid Reduces Preterm Birth Risk

A new study suggests that women who take folic acid supplements for at least one year before becoming pregnant can cut their risk of having a premature baby by half.

At the 28th Annual Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine Meeting, researchers presented a study linking preconceptional folate supplementation of at least one year to reduced early premature delivery rates of 50% to 70%, regardless of age, race, or other factors. Of particular interest is the reduction in very early premature births?those babies at the greatest risk of complications such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, and blindness.

An observational analysis, the study included the self-reporting of folate supplementation by 38,033 participants in an earlier trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH study included an early pregnancy ultrasound of each participant and provided highly accurate evidence of the gestational ages of the preterm deliveries. Radek Bukowski, MD, PhD, lead author of the study, said "This evidence enabled us to determine that folate supplementation for at least one year is linked to a 70% decrease in very early preterm deliveries (20-28 weeks in gestational age) and up to a 50% reduction in early preterm deliveries of 28 to 32 weeks."

Grape Seed Extract Pills May Cut Breast Cancer Risk

Thanks to a clinical trial taking place in California, grape seed extract is being prescribed as a new way of reducing the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Women aged 40 to 75 have been participating in this clinical trial for 3 months, in which they had regular blood tests to detect changes in levels of hormones and other compounds that could signal a lowered risk. While it is not clear exactly how it works, it is possible that it may lower levels of the hormone estrogen, which is implicated in some breast cancers. The grape seed extract may mimic the action of breast cancer drugs known as aromatase inhibitors, which interfere with the body's ability to produce estrogen.

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