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.
A new paper out this week led by my colleague, Dr. Teo Postolache raises the intriguing question as to whether patients prescribed statins have lower rates of psychiatric based hospital admissions as compared to non-statin users. The rationale for this study was based on prior work suggesting that statins not only slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk dementia but also decrease hospitalization rates as much as 25% in men and women with a history of major depression. Additional support for statin use includes inherent beneficial effects on oxidative stress, neuroinflammation and immune function, all of which that are commonly aggravated in psychiatric illnesses.
In the current study of ~680,000 Veterans with a history of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder studied, statin use was associated with a 15-30% lower likelihood of psychiatrically based hospitalization and emergency room visits. While this study cannot prove cause-effect (that is, statin use being directly implicated in lowering hospitalization rates) it does support further investigation testing various statins -including those that dissolve in fat (lipophilic) or do not (hydrophilic) – and monitoring hospitalization rates between randomization of assigned statin and the prespecified follow-up period.
Listed below are additional considerations related to psychiatric illness and cardiovascular disease.
In case you missed it, World Laughter Day was celebrated this past Sunday. Yet, our understanding of laughter’s influence on the cardiovascular system continues to grow since the inaugural World Laughter Day in 1998. In fact, my interest in this area began in 1997, when Dr. Adam Clark, a recent graduate of Albert Einstein School of Medicine and one of our Medical Residents, approached me seeking a research project in cardiovascular prevention. At that time, our laboratory was studying families with extreme levels of HDL (the good cholesterol); one of our interests was evaluating high HDL in protecting against heart disease.
We reasoned that if HDL served to counteract some of the adverse effects of LDL (the bad cholesterol) on the heart, might a similar story be played out when evaluating emotional health and heart disease. While studies had previously established emotional stress as a contributor to heart disease, information was simply lacking as to whether positive emotions may offset this effect.
Our initial study of a 40% lower risk of heart disease among those who were able to find certain daily stressful situations humorous led to other studies that ultimately supported a direct link between laughter and vascular health; click here for the review paper co-authored with Dr. William Fry, the late Stanford University professor and pioneer in the field.
As additional research has been conducted in recent years, we’ve gained new insights into the role of laughter and cardiovascular health. Listed below are some of the reasons why we should keep this party going (daily rather than yearly):
A Japanese study of nearly 21,000 men and women (aged 65 years and older) found that daily laughter was associated with a 60% lower risk of a stroke compared to those who never or rarely laughed.
A 15-year study in Norwegians found a greater than 70% higher survival rate from cardiovascular disease in women with a high sense of humor.
Watching a funny video reduces stress cortisol levels (that in turn, increases inflammation/cardiovascular risk), improves short-term memory and learning ability.