Scientific Studies

Woman having coffee

Daily Caffeine Doesn't Cause a Racing Heart

If you absolutely can’t start your morning without coffee or get through the afternoon without a cup of tea, you’re in for good news. For years, the healthcare community has advised against regular caffeine consumption because caffeine is thought to disturb the natural cardiac rhythm of your heart, but a recent study challenges this advice. Coffee, tea and dark chocolate are full of antioxidants that may actually benefit your heart’s health, and according to this study, they are safe to be consumed daily.

The Study
Close to 1,400 individuals were chosen to participate in a year-long study that looked at the effects of daily caffeine consumption on the heart. “Clinical recommendations advising against the regular consumption of caffeinated products to prevent disturbances of the heart’s cardiac rhythm should be reconsidered, as we may unnecessarily be discouraging consumption of items like chocolate, coffee and tea that might actually have cardiovascular benefits,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. Gregory Marcus, director of clinical research in the division of cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco. “Given our recent work demonstrating that extra heartbeats can be dangerous, this finding is especially relevant,” Marcus adds. Marcus is referring to research that points to extra heartbeats being a cause of heart problems and stroke, but this is in rare cases.

The Results
Researchers monitored the chocolate, coffee and tea consumption of each of the 1,400 participants, and participants wore portable devices that monitored their heart rhythm continuously for 24 hours. During the course of the survey, 61 percent of participants consumed more than one of the caffeinated products daily and the results were that those who consumed more than one caffeinated item each day had no extra heartbeats. These findings are important because “this was the first community-based sample to look at the impact of caffeine on extra heartbeats, as previous studies looked at people with known (heart rhythm disorders),” says study lead author, Shalini Dixit, fourth-year medical student at the University of California, San Francisco.

The results of this study are exciting and encouraging because it was previously thought that regular caffeine consumption was related to extra heartbeats or a racing heart. This University of California, San Francisco study challenges those beliefs and asserts that caffeine can be consumed daily. It is important to note that the study looked at caffeinated products that are known to have additional health benefits (coffee, green tea and chocolate) and not drinks health experts warn people to stay away from like soft drinks. Additionally, the study authors say that before determining whether or not there are additional health risks to heavy caffeine consumption, more studies are necessary.

This study seems to confirm that like most things, caffeine in moderation is safe for your heart, and that some of the products containing caffeine may have additional health benefits. The antioxidants in coffee, green tea and chocolate provide health benefits for your body by fighting inflammation, protecting against free radicals and can even help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Enjoy these products in moderation, knowing that they won’t cause your heart to work overtime.

Woman making a heart shape with her fingers

Your Skin and Heart Health

What if you could predict your risk for cardiovascular diseases and conditions by the simple act of looking at your skin? While it might not be that easy, recent research suggests that there are links between the health of your skin and the health of your heart. Two major studies supporting this claim include one published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and one published in the Journals of Gerontology. Keep reading to learn about the studies and what they mean for your health.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Study
The skin/heart health study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology involved more than 61,000 adults. Adults that had the inflammatory skin condition eczema were 48 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, 35 percent more likely to deal with adult-onset diabetes and 29 percent more likely to have high cholesterol than other adults. All of these ailments are risk factors that contribute to heart disease and the numbers remained the same, even after other factors that play into cardiovascular diseases such as alcohol consumption and activity levels, were controlled.

Why do those who have eczema find themselves at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease? While the exact answer is unknown, the most probable answer is that those with eczema have such intense chronic inflammation that it shows up throughout the body as opposed to just superficially on the skin. “It may be that chronic inflammation from eczema directly increases cardiovascular risk,” says Jonathan Silverberg, M.D., Ph. D, and assistant professor of dermatology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Silverberg notes that not all inflammation is a bad thing for your body, in face acute inflammation is the natural response your body has to harmful invaders, it is the constant deployment of natural killer cells and T cells that can interfere with vital functioning, including circulation. Additionally, Silverberg makes it clear that not everyone who suffers from eczema will have cardiovascular problems. You can help prevent both the health of your heart and skin by consuming antioxidant-rich produce, controlling stress levels and being sure to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

The Journals of Gerontology Study
Researchers from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands in conjunction with scientists from Unilever observed 250 women who were separated into two groups by the researchers based on high and low cardiovascular disease risk. The scientist analyzed the skin of the faces and upper inner arms of the women and found that the women who appeared younger had lower blood pressure and heart disease risks. “We have found that the feature in the face that blood pressure was linked to was not skin wrinkles but likely what we term as ‘sag’ in the face. The exciting thing is further investigations will enable exact pinpointing of the feature in the face that signposts an individual’s blood pressure,” says Dr. David Gunn, senior scientist at Unilever.

You may not be able to determine your heart health and future cardiovascular disease risk by merely taking a peek in the mirror, but it seems that your skin may reflect more of your internal health than previously thought. You can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by engaging in a healthy, active lifestyle that includes low stress, adequate sleep and a nutritious diet. Not only will your heart thank you, but so will your skin.

Human neuron

The Cell Transformation that Could Transform Medicine

The treatment and management of diseases and conditions is one of the most heavily studied areas of science. New discoveries are made every day, some of which have the power to transform medical practices. A recent study by molecular and cellular biologists indicates that the way in which personalized medicine is practiced may truly transform. Scientists have been able to use gene insertion to transform one type of cell into another type of cell. Adding genes into the original cells is a highly intricate process that involves a significant time investment. Additionally, when using gene insertion to transform cells, there is the possibility one of the genes meant for insertion could end up on a chromosome and activate a cancer-causing gene. New studies published online by Cell Stem Cell states that scientists have successfully transformed skin cells into neurons without the use of gene insertion.

The Study
The studies published online by Cell Stem Cell assert that scientists have been able to transform one type of cell into another type of cell with a less invasive and time consuming process. The new transforming technique involves the addition of a specific set of chemicals to the cells. Gang Pei, a co-author of one of the studies and a biochemist at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences in China explains that the crucial element in this new way of transforming cells is the use of small molecule chemicals. These small molecule chemicals go into the cell and enter the nucleus of the cell, the part that contains DNA. From here, the small molecule chemicals are able to alter the activity of a gene. Pei, and the team he led, spent enormous amounts of time researching the exact chemical concoction that can transform cells; in the study they transformed skin cells into neurons. The specific group of chemicals used by Pei and his team are labeled VCRFSGY and these chemicals work in stages. VCRF, the first four chemicals, begin the process by altering physical traits on a gene known as Tuj1 (a gene that is specifically active in neurons). Without the last three chemicals, the altered cell exists in an ambiguous state being neither a skin cell nor a neuron. The SGY chemicals amplify the neurological development that VCRF initiated which results in cells that looked, and acted like, neurons.In a second study, researchers in China were able to achieve the same results in mice using different chemicals.

Why it Matters
With two separate studies, and two sets of chemicals, producing the same results, molecular and cell biologists believe that this process could compete with gene insertion in order to reprogram and transform cells. They believe that the process of using small molecule chemicals will especially benefit the field of personalized medicine. These study is exciting because with these processes, a patient’s own cells can be used to treat illnesses and other conditions. Pei’s team was able to transform skin cells from an Alzheimer’s patient into neurons that exhibited markers of Alzheimer’s disease. With this process, researchers would be able to safely and accurately research the disease and perform drug tests on the transformed cells without endangering the patient.

These studies indicate that medical research and development continues to reach new and exciting heights constantly, which provides the scientific community with hope that disease study will advance to the point where cures are possible. These studies are just the beginning of the powers of cell-transforming technology and only time will tell what will be possible in the future.