30 Years of Heart-Related Discoveries/Advances at the University of Maryland School of Medicine

cholesterol, Diabetes, dietary fat, fish consumption, Health & Wellness, heart disease prevention, laughter, Uncategorized

As my 30-plus years as a faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Medical Center has drawn to a close, I fondly recall 10 heart-related findings/discoveries and newsworthy events that gained worldwide attention, ending with the first genetically altered pig heart transplanted at UMMS last week.  Here they are in no special order.

1.         Poe likely died of rabies, doctor’s review shows: https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1996-09-11-1996255015-story.html

2.         Having high cholesterol levels early in life leads to heart problems by middle age: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/823756

3.         Air Pollution and Diabetes: https://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=14-P13-00002&segmentID=5#:~:text=We’ve%20long%20known%20that,fatty%20diet%20can%20promote%20diabetes.

4. U.S. Amish gene trait may inspire heart protection: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-heart-gene/u-s-amish-gene-trait-may-inspire-heart-protection-idUKTRE4BA6JQ20081211

5.         Want a McMuffin? Take your McVitamins: https://greensboro.com/want-a-mcmuffin-take-your-mcvitamins/article_20be3661-d342-549f-9118-a2e355f4175a.html

6.         UMMC Implants the World’s Smallest Pacemaker: https://www.umms.org/ummc/news/2017/ummc-implants-the-worlds-smallest-pacemaker

7.         University Of Maryland School of Medicine Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050309111444.htm

8.         Study finds no value in heart supplement: CoQ10 not shown to relieve symptoms, UM cardiologist says: https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1999-09-27-9909270293-story.html

9.         Secondhand Smoke Ups Heart Disease in Unique Group of Female Nonsmokers – Amish Women: https://www.umms.org/ummc/news/2017/amish-secondhand-smoke

10.       In a First, Man Receives a Heart from a Genetically Altered Pig https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/10/health/heart-transplant-pig-bennett.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes

Dr. Michael Miller is Chief of Medicine, Corporal Michael J Crescenz VAMC in Philadelphia, PA   Check him out on twitter: @mmillermd1

Did You Hear That? If Not, Blame it on Your Heart

audiology, blood pressure, cholesterol, Diabetes, fish consumption, Hearing, Heart Health, Nutrition, omega 3's, Uncategorized

As we age, the loss of high frequency sounds becomes a common sign of hearing impairment due to degenerative changes in the inner ear.  High frequency hearing loss is common in the U.S. (~1 in 5 adult men and women are affected) and the classic sign is a decreased ability to hear high pitched sounds (voices of children/women) as well as to decipher conversations in a crowded room.  Loss of low frequency sounds (voices of men, thunder, bass) is less common but is also an important cause of hearing loss.

A study from the Yale School of Medicine suggests that having a history of cardiovascular disease or at least 1 cardiovascular risk factor (diabetes, high blood pressure, history of smoking) also raises the risk of both high and low frequency hearing loss.

Bottom Line: While heart related risk factors may promote hearing loss, it still remains to be determined whether intensive management of these risk factors delays progression of this process.

Listed below are some tips related to hearing and cardiovascular health

  1. High frequency hearing loss is common in patients with diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) due to disease of small blood vessels of the (cochlear) inner ear.
  2. Treatment of high cholesterol with statins has been shown to improve tinnitus (ringing of the ears).
  3. In a study of 274 men and women aged 45-64 years, hearing loss was 2-fold greater among those with hypertension (140/90 or higher) than with normal blood pressure.
  4. A study conducted in Korea found that obese men and women with elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels were at increased risk of high frequency hearing loss.
  5. Data from the Nurses’ Health Study found that women who consumed 2-4 fish meals per week experienced a 20% lower likelihood of hearing loss compared to women who consumed less than 1 fish meal per month over the 18-year followup period.
  6. Cigarette smoking cessation eliminates the excess risk of hearing loss within 5-years of quitting.

Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Lift Weights to Lose Weight

cholesterol, Diabetes, Fitness, Health & Wellness, Heart Health, obesity, resistance training, smoking, weight lifting


A new study shows that lifting weights/resistance training 2 or more days a week for as little as 30 minutes per session is associated with or a 20-30% lower risk of developing obesity over a 6 year period. In addition to traditional weight machines and free weights, muscle strengthening/tone activities include full body squats, pushups, planks and other core exercises.

This study adds to the growing evidence that muscle toning exercises are cardioprotective.  Among the first studies to demonstrate heart protection was the “Harvard Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study, which found that weight training for at least 30 minutes each week resulted in a 23% lower risk of a heart attack or death from heart disease**

Shown below are several other reasons why weight/resistance training aimed at muscle toning should be part of your overall physical fitness prescription to improve cardiometabolic health by reducing the following:

  1. Type 2 diabetes: A study of nearly 4700 adults found that moderate weight training that resulted in increases in muscle mass (assessed by bench and leg press) reduced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 32% over an 8-year period.
  2. Conversion from Pre-diabetes to Type 2 diabetes: Another study of men and women with prediabetes (fasting glucose between 100-125 mg/dL) found resistance training (1 hour thrice weekly) to reduce conversion to Type 2 diabetes by 65%!
  3. High Cholesterol: A Study of more than 7300 men found that ~1 hour of resistance training per week was associated with a 32% lower risk of high cholesterol (equal to or greater than 240 mg/dL) over ~20 years of followup.
  4. Quitting Smoking: A study funded by the National Cancer Institute found that men and women who engaged in two 1-hour sessions of resistance training over a 12-week smoking cessation program were 2x as likely to successfully quit than their non- weight lifting counterparts.

Dr. Michael Miller is Director, Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

**from Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”

A Long-Standing Love Affair…. with Cholesterol

cholesterol, Health & Wellness, Heart Health, nobel prize, Nutrition

The year was 1979.  As a first-year medical student at Rutgers, I still vividly recall the enthusiasm of our famed biochemistry professors (Drs. Bjorn Olsen and Darwin Prockop) as they lectured us about a recent discovery that they predicted would someday change the practice of medicine.  With their accompanying 20+ page handout, they detailed the elegant experiments conducted several years earlier by Drs. Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein on understanding the genetic flaw (defective/deficient LDL receptors) that resulted in very high cholesterol levels and premature heart disease.

Brown and Goldstein were in fact inspired by the seminal work of another pioneering Rutgers professor, Dr. Avedis Khachadurian who studied genetically high cholesterol in a Lebanese population; he classified familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) into 2 distinct forms: homozygous and heterozygous.   In fact, skin cells (fibroblasts) from one of Dr. Khachadurian’s FH patients were used by Brown and Goldstein to uncover a novel cellular process (receptor mediated endocytosis) that culminated in the 1985 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology

Cholesterol disorders were further discussed in our small groups (see picture above…I’m the bearded one in the center) where we drew blood on each other to measure our total cholesterol and HDL levels. Despite all the excitement generated by our professors about cholesterol and heart disease, our favorite lunch offerings continued to be bacon cheeseburgers and fries (yes, guilty as charged)!

Several years later, during my medical residency at the University of Cincinnati, 1st year residents were assigned to a month at the General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) where studies focused on plasmapheresis treatment for very high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  The University of Cincinnati was also a national site for the Lipid Research Clinics Coronary Primary Prevention Trial (LRC-CPPT) trial that found that the cholesterol lowering medication, cholestyramine, reduced the risk of heart related events in men with high LDL levels.

Following this study, skeptics came out of the woodwork to voice their concern that lowering cholesterol did not translate into improved overall survival even though the LRC-CPPT trial was not designed to evaluate total mortality.  In fact, following my Senior Resident presentation on ”Cholesterol and Heart Disease”in 1986,  all agreed that while high cholesterol promoted heart disease, there was insufficient evidence that lowering cholesterol improved overall survival.  As a result, cholesterol lowering treatments were primarily used by lipid specialists and endocrinologists rather than specialists treating cardiovascular disease.

Even after statins came on the market in 1987, there was reluctance to use these meds in cardiac patients. In fact as a cardiology fellow in 1990, I added statin treatment to my post-MI patients recovering in the CCU only to have our Attending rescind these orders!  As might be said tongue in cheek,  he was correct in doing so because at that time there was no evidence to support statin treatment for post-MI patients.

In fact, cardiologists did not embrace lipid lowering therapy for heart disease until such evidence came to fruition. In the statin trial known as “4 S” (Scandinavian Simvastatin Survival Study) there was a 30% reduction in total mortality (in addition to reducing risk of heart attack and stroke), among men and women with very high levels of LDL cholesterol who received simvastatin treatment.   The floodgates then opened as study after study demonstrated the benefit of statins for reducing cardiovascular events.  Other add-on treatments including, cholesterol absorption inhibitors (ezetimibe), PCSK9 inhibitors and bempedoic acid have further contributed to LDL lowering and when tested, have demonstrated additional benefit (beyond statins) in reducing heart-related events.

The Bottom Line: In the 1960s, treatment for high cholesterol was not very effective and the medications used (bile acid resins, niacin) were often not well tolerated.  Today, we have therapies that can safely drive LDL levels down to those attained at birth (~30 mg/dL).   Yet, many still fear taking these medications, especially statins, because they have heard/read about myths popularized in lay books and social media.  As past Chair of the American Heart Association Counsel on Clinical Lipidology we recently wrote a Scientific Statement on the safety of statins, led by my colleague Dr. Connie Newman  that dispel falsehoods such as “statins will kill you”, “statins will destroy your liver”, “statins will paralyze you”, etc.

Suffice it to say that my longstanding love affair with cholesterol remains strong as we continue to battle cardiovascular disease, the nation’s top killer. Listed below are some takeaways with regard to cholesterol and heart disease.

  1. At birth, the average LDL (bad cholesterol) level is 30 mg/dL. As LDL levels rise above 50-60 mg/dL, “hardening of the arteries” (cholesterol plaques) develop.
  2. Heart disease is rare in countries whose average LDL cholesterol and triglycerides levels are less than 100 mg/dL.
  3. For every 10 mg/dL decrease in LDL, the risk of heart disease is reduced ~5%.
  4. Replacing saturated fat with an equal amount of polyunsaturated fat lowers LDL levels by 2.1 mg/dL.
  5. Higher LDL levels in childhood predict cardiovascular disease later in life.
  6. If you have heart disease, aim to lower your LDL cholesterol levels to less than 70 mg/dL.
  7. On average, statins raise blood glucose 2-5 mg/dL. However, statins do not cause the diabetes disease process. Rather, statins effectively reduce cardiovascular risk in diabetics.

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland and author of  Heal Your Heart….”: published by Penguin Random House.