Today’s Headlines: Blood Pressure, Alcohol and Smoking

Lower blood pressure makes a difference in diabetics. Keeping your blood pressure down drops your risk of a variety of different diseases that can affect your health. Diabetics are particularly vulnerable to the effects of high blood pressure and new research indicates that keeping their blood pressure lower than the bar used for others may be beneficial. “Guidelines suggested that a systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 140 is a good goal for people with diabetes, but the new study found that 130 or even lower may be better. The analysis found that lowering from 140 to 130 was associated with a 13 percent reduction in the risk for death, a 12 percent decline in the risk of coronary heart disease, and a 26 percent decline in the risk of stroke. The 10-point drop was also associated with a 13 percent reduction in retinopathy (a cause of blindness in people with diabetes) and a 17 percent reduction in albuminuria, an indication of kidney problems.” The researchers don’t know whether going lower than 130 would have even bigger effects, but they say that many diabetics would probably benefit from blood pressure medications to get their pressure into the 130 range. (NYT)

Alcohol may only benefit women over 65. Initial studies looking at low level alcohol consumption found health benefits, but recent studies have found plenty of caveats. Those early studies included people of all ages and genders. A new study has found that only a select few actually benefit. “Unless you’re a woman over 65, alcohol consumption is unlikely to forestall your death. For these older women, the health benefits of alcohol are not enormous, but drinkers were less likely to die six and 10 years after the study. The same study initially returned findings that men between the ages of 50 and 65 might reap a small benefit from drinking alcohol. But those apparent benefits evaporated when the researchers scrubbed from their non-drinking ‘reference group’ all those who used to drink but have stopped.” The health benefits found in past studies are thought to have resulted from the inclusion of people who used to drink a lot, but who have since cut back and improved their health in doing so. While older women did see a benefit from alcohol, the authors warn “that older drinkers are more likely to have health conditions, and to take medicine for them, that impair their ability to metabolize alcohol. That puts this group of people at greater risk from drinking alcohol.” (LA Times)

Smoking damages a wide variety of organs, leading to many diseases. We’ve known for decades that smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body and new research has confirmed that it contributes to a wide variety of diseases and dramatically shortens life span. “Breast cancer, prostate cancer, and even routine infections are all maladies tied to smoking in a new study that says an additional 60,000 to 120,000 deaths each year in the United States are probably due to tobacco use. The study looks beyond lung cancer, heart disease and other conditions already tied to smoking, and the 480,000 U.S. deaths attributed to them each year.” The researchers comment that smokers die, on average, more than a decade before nonsmokers and they think that past estimates of the cost of smoking to health and society have substantially underestimated how many people are affected by diseases related to smoking. “Death rates were two to three times higher among current smokers than among people who never smoked. Most of the excess deaths in smokers were due to 21 diseases already tied to smoking, including 12 types of cancer, heart disease and stroke. But researchers also saw death rates in smokers were twice as high from other conditions such as kidney failure, infections, liver cirrhosis and some respiratory diseases not previously tied to smoking.” (CBS)