A recent study has found that as little as two one-hour yoga sessions per week can help significantly reduce the number of episodes of rapid, out-of-control heartbeats experienced by patients with atrial fibrillation.

By Alan Bavley

The same kind of exercise that can bring peace to your mind may bring peace to your heart as well.
Researchers at the University of Kansas Hospital are finding that regular time spent doing yoga breathing and stretching exercises may help keep potentially dangerous heart rhythm disorders in check.
A hospital study published in January in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that as little as two one-hour yoga sessions per week can help significantly reduce the number of episodes of rapid, out-of-control heartbeats experienced by patients with atrial fibrillation. These patients also cut their blood pressure and lowered their levels of anxiety and depression.
The results of this preliminary study are so promising, two similar yoga studies at the University of Kansas Hospital are enrolling patients with other disorders that cause faulty heart rhythms.
“Yoga is not a solution in itself, but it provides very profound effects,” said University of Kansas heart specialist Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy. “It’s not a drug; it’s not a (medical procedure). It’s something you can do in your living room for not very much money.”
Lakkireddy wants to see if yoga training can work for other patients.
He has started recruiting people with tachycardia, another rhythm disorder with accelerated heart rates, and syncope, a disorder that causes fainting when the heart stops beating temporarily.
Lakkireddy’s studies are too small to prove definitively that yoga is effective. He hopes to persuade the National Institutes of Health to fund large-scale research to determine with more certainty what yoga may do.
Yoga, with its meditation, breathing exercises and sometimes-difficult poses, has been practised for more than 5,000 years. Because it’s known for its ability to bring inner peace, yoga often is recommended to heart and cancer patients as a way to relieve stress.
Research suggests yoga can lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. But there has been little study aimed at using yoga as a medical treatment.
Lakkireddy was born and raised in India. His grandfather was a yoga instructor. But Lakkireddy gave up yoga when he was a teenager and started practising again only in the past few years.
When a couple of his patients told him yoga helped dampen their atrial fibrillation, he was sceptical.
“I laughed at them, ‘Show me.’ I sent them home with a (heart) monitor.”
Positive results piqued his interest in taking a scientific look: “I couldn’t dismiss it.”
Atrial fibrillation is the chaotic beating — sometimes several hundred times per minute — of the two upper chambers of the heart. The irregular rhythm causes the heart to pump less efficiently. Blood can pool and clot in the heart, raising risks of stroke and heart attack.
More than a half-dozen drugs are available for to treat the condition, but they don’t work for every patient, and even when they do, they can lose effectiveness over time. There also is a heart procedure that destroys electrical “hot spots” that trigger atrial fibrillation; it works about 70% to 80% of the time.
Lakkireddy theorised yoga may act on the autonomic nervous system — the body’s own yin and yang — to bring heart rhythms into balance.
The autonomic system has two components. The sympathetic nervous system produces the “fight or flight” response of rapid heartbeat and elevated blood pressure; yoga may tone it down. The parasympathetic system slows the pulse and lowers blood pressure; yoga may enhance its action.
Several years ago, Lakkireddy began putting about 50 atrial fibrillation patients through a three-month course of yoga training.
They visited a yoga studio in Overland Park twice a week for one-hour classes and also did yoga at home, if they wished.
Study participants wore a portable heart monitor to record episodes of atrial fibrillation during the three months before they started yoga classes and the three months they were going to class. They also filled out surveys to measure anxiety and depression.
Lakkireddy found that yoga training reduced instances of atrial fibrillation by about 30 to 40%.
Although yoga is not a substitute for medical treatment, it does improve patients’ quality of life, Lakkireddy said. And by reducing the number of atrial fibrillation episodes, it could potentially lower medical bills.
Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common heart problems that end up in emergency rooms.
“It almost competes with chest pains and heart attacks. Even a small reduction can translate to billions of dollars,” Lakkireddy said.
Teresa Perkins, 60, of Lake Quivira, Kansas, still, does some of the breathing and stretching exercises she learned as a participant in the study.
“I feel that when you’re having an (atrial fibrillation) attack, I can calm down and it stops,” she said. “You’re more comfortable with it.
You’re not as panicky that you think you’re going to have a heart attack.”
While conducting the atrial fibrillation study, Lakkireddy encountered a patient who helped convince him that he should expand his research.
Trayce Loyd, 23, of Moundville, Missouri, developed syncope when she was 16. She fainted repeatedly, leading to trips to the emergency room.
“Everything they would test came back normal,” she said. “It wasn’t anything serious, they said.”
Eventually, a heart monitor implanted in her chest revealed her heart was stopping for as long as 20 seconds at a time. She was put on drugs that made her so tired she slept 12 hours a day.
At age 21, Loyd became a candidate for a pacemaker. But her operation was delayed because she lacked insurance. Lakkireddy suggested that in the meantime, she try yoga. She did a yoga routine at least three times per week. She hasn’t had a fainting spell in the past year and a half and no longer takes the three or four pills a day she did before.
“I love doing yoga. I would much rather exercise than take medications the way I was,” she said. — The Kansas City Star/MCT

Eat your fruits and veggies,
but wash them first

By Lisa Abraham

Nancy Cervone doesn’t worry too much about food contamination, and she certainly would never consider herself a “germaphobe.”
But when the Stow, Ohio, resident spotted a mound of cantaloupes on sale at the grocery store recently, she couldn’t help but think about the illnesses linked to the melons in the summer of 2011.
“Unfortunately, every time I now eat cantaloupe, I think about the food poisoning outbreaks,” she said.
Cervone’s concerns have real merit.
A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fingered produce as the leading cause of food poisoning in the US. The study revealed that more than meat, poultry or fish, fruits and vegetables were the number one source of food-borne illness over the 10-year period of the study (although more deaths were attributed to contaminated poultry).
Nearly half of all food poisonings were attributed to produce, the study showed.
Melons pose a particular hazard, according to Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.
Cantaloupes, especially, can harbour bacteria due to their rough, webbed outer skin. Cantaloupes require a good scrubbing under cold running water before they are sliced, otherwise the bacteria on the outside of the skin will be carried inside to the flesh with the first swipe of a knife.
Doyle said the more cracks and grooves on the skin of a fruit or vegetable, the more easily bacteria can hide. Melons also have a neutral pH, so they offer a perfect growing environment for bacteria.
The problem of contaminated melons is often made worse by grocery stores that sell cut pieces, but often don’t store them in a cold enough environment.
Doyle recalls walking into an upscale grocery store in South Carolina one summer, where a metal tank with ice in the bottom was filled with containers of cut melon. The bottom inch of the containers was inside the ice, leaving the majority of the melon in an environment warm enough for bacteria to multiply rapidly.
In the CDC’s new study, however, leafy greens like lettuce and spinach were revealed as the worst culprits for food poisoning in the study period, between 1998 and 2008.
Cervone said she has the mental debate over to-wash-or-not-to-wash every time she grabs a handful of bagged spinach for a salad.
Salad greens marked “washed and ready to eat” or “triple-washed” remain an area of debate among food safety experts.
Some experts contend that the triple-washing with chlorine that takes place during processing is enough to kill what bacteria can be killed, and advise against washing bagged greens because the risk of cross-contamination in the home kitchen is a greater concern.
A 2010 study by the Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, concludes that consumers should wash all bagged or boxed lettuce and greens — even those marked pre-washed or triple-washed — before consuming.
The agency tested bags of washed lettuces and found that while they may not be contaminated with E coli, listeria or salmonella, 39% of all product samples had bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and faecal contamination, and exceeded acceptable limits on total coliforms.
Doyle goes one step further — he says not to buy bagged greens at all. He advises buying whole heads of lettuce or greens, removing the outer surface layers where bacteria is most likely to be present, and then washing the greens under cold running water.
Doyle has conducted studies that show the cutting and bagging of lettuce in processing plants can actually trap bacteria inside the lettuce leaves, meaning that no amount of scrubbing or washing will ever get rid of the germs. If greens are cut before they are washed — as they commonly are during processing — the bacteria become internalised by the leaves, trapping the germs inside the produce.
Then, it’s not a question of what’s on the leaves, but what’s in the leaves. At that point, only cooking can kill the germs, and few salad greens are cooked before eating.
Despite his concerns, Doyle said the chances of getting ill from eating bagged lettuce, whether washed or not, remains fairly small.
“The reality of it is, the odds are in your favour,” he said, noting that less than 1% of bagged salad greens are contaminated. “But even if it was one-tenth of a percent, when you multiply that times billions of bags sold, it’s still a significant number,” Doyle added.
As risky as bagged greens can be, Doyle said an even greater concern should be the consumption of raw sprouts like bean and alfalfa.
He believes the only reason they weren’t first on the list of illness-causing produce in the CDC study is that folks just don’t eat nearly as many of them as they do items like lettuce, tomatoes or melon.
He said sprouts, due to their high levels of contamination, should never be consumed raw.
E coli, salmonella or listeria often are present in very low numbers on seeds for sprouts, but their growing conditions create the perfect petri dish, Doyle explained.
“When we put the seeds into a vat of water to grow the sprouts, at the right temperature, and add nutrients into the water with lots of moisture, it’s the best growing condition for bacteria,” he said.
Sprouts’ contamination can be so complete, it is nearly impossible to wash the germs away, making cooking the only safe option, he said.
Doyle said part of the problem is the changes in our eating habits, which includes more raw foods. In Asian cuisine, for example, bean sprouts were always cooked before being eaten, but now plenty of folks will eat raw sprouts of all varieties on salads and sandwiches.
The same is true for greens like spinach.
“When I was growing up, we would have never thought about eating raw spinach. Spinach was always cooked with bacon and vinegar. We never thought about eating it raw; that was for rabbits, not for people,” Doyle added.
Despite the problems, there’s no reason not to eat plenty of fresh produce. It’s just important to follow safe handling and preparation practices.
Always wash produce, and hands, too. Cold water and a good scrubbing will help to eliminate bacteria. — Akron Beacon Journal/MCT

10 tips for safer produce
Here are 10 tips, gathered from a variety of food safety sources, for handling produce safely:
l Purchase produce as minimally processed as you can find it. Buy whole heads of lettuce and bunches of leaf lettuce and spinach rather than bags and boxes.
l Don’t buy produce that has been cut at the store. Grocery stores often don’t store cut fruit at the proper temperature, below 40°, allowing bacteria to multiply on it rapidly.
l Look for produce that is free from blemishes. Broken skin provides a place for bacteria to enter and increases the chance of contamination.
l Wash your hands before handling produce so as not to cross-contaminate it.
l Wash the outsides of produce under cold running water, even if you won’t be eating the skin.
l Scrub the outside of produce like melons, cucumbers and apples with a brush under cold running water, even if you plan on peeling them. The bacteria on the outside of a melon will be on the inside with the first swipe of a knife that cuts through the skin and into the flesh. Don’t forget to properly sanitise your scrub brush too.
l Treat produce like you would raw chicken — clean all surfaces after cutting raw produce.
l Watch out for cross-contamination. Make sure packages of raw meat aren’t packed in the same grocery bag as fresh fruits and vegetables. Store meats on the lowest shelves of the refrigerator to decrease the chance that they could drip onto other foods.
l Wash reusable grocery bags frequently. Is the bag you used to carry raw chicken home today the same bag that you’ll carry your leaf lettuce home in tomorrow? If so, make sure it is washed in between.
l For the elderly, the very young and those with weakened immune systems, cook greens like spinach and sprouts to a temperature of at least 165° to kill any bacteria before eating. The greatest percentage of deaths from salmonella happen among the elderly.