Men who give up work to become house husbands could be putting their health at risk, suggests a new study. Dr. Elaine Eaker, of Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises in Wisconsin, found that the pressures of staying at home to look after children significantly increase a man’s risk of heart disease and early death.

The findings come from a study into the links between work-related stress and coronary heart disease. Eaker says, “These findings may indicate that people who perform work or social roles incongruent with what is socially expected suffer greater heart disease and death.”

House husbands might be at greater risk of ill health because they do not have the same level of support from peers, friends and family as women who leave work to care for families. The men might feel more pressure to “prove themselves,” or they might have less of an idea of how to do their jobs correctly, never having had a male role model.”As social roles and norms change with time, it is hoped that the harmful effects of having jobs or social roles that are considered outside the norm will be diminished,” says Eaker.

The findings, presented yesterday at a meeting of the American Heart Association, come from a 10-year study of 2,682 people aged between 18 and 77. Men who described themselves as house husbands had an 82 per cent higher 10-year death rate than men who worked outside the home, the study found. The finding was true even when researchers took into account the men’s age, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, diabetes and smoking habits.

Men with lower incomes, or who left full-time education earlier, also had an increased risk of heart disease and death over the 10 years. But those in high prestige jobs, such as lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers and architects, had a significantly lower risk of heart disease.

Women who had stressful jobs with senior responsibilities were almost three times more likely to develop heart disease than those in jobs lower down the management chain. For both sexes, the stress of going against the standard male and female roles seems to be hard on the health. For men, especially, it?s tough staying home with the kids.

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Firstborn children are more likely to develop heart disease as adults, says Maurizio Ferratini of the Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, Milan. His team found over 60 per cent more firstborns among a group of heart disease patients than would have been expected. They speculate this may be because firstborns are predisposed to developing a more coronary-prone, “type-A” personality.

“After many years of practice, we noticed a prevalence of firstborns among people affected by coronary heart disease (CHD),” says Ferratini. The team studied 348 people with CHD. They looked at birth order, age, gender, family history of CHD and the presence of other major risk factors. And although firstborn and subsequent children had a similar number of risk factors for CHD, 47 per cent of the patients were firstborn, compared with 29 per cent of the general local population.

“Because we found the same kinds of risk factors in both groups, we suspect being firstborn is the likely explanation,” says Ferrantini. “The family context frequently orients firstborns along a perfectionist path, giving them a determined, winning and aggressive attitude – aspects frequently observed in subjects with a type-A personality, also known as coronary-prone.”

Craig Haslop of the British Heart Foundation says there is no experimental evidence that firstborn children are more likely to develop type-A personalities. “There are suggestions that Type As are more prone to get CHD but there is no clear evidence on whether that is to do with stress itself or the way they deal with stress,” says Haslop. “Maybe firstborns are more prone to not eat the right foods to deal with stress.”

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Dr. Dominique Minier, of the Service de Neurologie in Dijon, France, says she?s found a correlation between changes in weather and stroke, which is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

During the study, her team recorded when residents of Dijon, France, experienced first-time strokes. They noted weather conditions such as temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind strength, and the presence of sun and rain on the day of each stroke and five days prior. They then compared meteorological factors with the different types of stroke encountered by the patients in their study and found the incidence of certain kinds of strokes increased following a temperature drop outside and when humidity and atmospheric pressure were high.

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An extract from a small tree found across Arabia and India helps reduce cholesterol. It has been discovered in the West by researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, but has been used in traditional Hindu medicine for nearly 3,000 years. The extract, called guglipid, comes from the guggal tree.

It received regulatory approval in India in 1987 and is used to treat a range of conditions, including obesity and lipid disorders. Until now, there has been little support for its use in conventional medicine. But now U.S. scientists say they have found evidence to back giving it to patients with high cholesterol.

The extract blocks the body’s Farnesoid X Receptor (FXR), which helps manage cholesterol levels by triggering the process in which the body converts cholesterol to bile acids. When this happens too quickly, the body is not able to get rid of enough cholesterol, leaving levels high and increasing the risk of heart disease. The researchers say their findings could pave the way for the use of guglipid in new cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The extract is now available in some health food stores, but it may interact adversely with existing medicines. Also, some of the other claims concerning the drug, such as that it helps in weight loss, can?t be proven. Nancy Urizar of Baylor College says, “While we have seen promising results concerning the drug’s cholesterol-reducing ability, there is a lot out there on the web that we can’t support.”

Kanu Patel, who practices traditional Hindu medicine in the U.K., says, “There has been clinical data from India for years showing that guglipid is effective. Scientists in the U.S. are only starting to look at it now but really we have known this for years.”

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