Rheumatoid Arthritis, Heart Attack Risk Linked

Women suffering from rheumatoid arthritis may face double the risk of heart attack compared with women without the condition, according to a study released yesterday.

Researchers at the Brigham and Women's Hospital analyzed health conditions of more than 114,000 people in a 20-year study, including 527 arthritis sufferers.

Their findings, reported in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation, point to a possible correlation between rates of arthritis and heart attack risks in women.

"Both physicians and patients should recognize rheumatoid arthritis as a marker for increased heart attack risk," said Daniel Solomon, a rheumatologist and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's in Boston.

"Our study, the largest of its kind to date, illustrates the importance of considering more aggressive cardiac preventive measures in arthritic patients," he said.

About 2.1 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women.

The study found that women with rheumatoid arthritis had twice the risk of heart attack compared with those without it. Those who had the joint condition for at least 10 years faced triple the heart attack risks of nonsufferers.

The study cited no link between arthritis and stroke risk.

Solomon, also a Harvard Medical School instructor, said the findings suggested inflammation could be a common catalyst for the two conditions.

Alzheimer's Links to Fats, Antioxidants Studied

A diet high in unsaturated, unhydrogenated fats such as vegetable products and some oils may help lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease, but antioxidant vitamins have no such protective effect, according to two separate studies.

Doctors at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago said they reached their conclusions on the fat question after examining 815 people 65 and older who did not have Alzheimer's at the start of a nearly four-year study. Those in the study were asked to recall their dietary habits during a more than two-year period before the study began.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that 131 people had developed Alzheimer's, the debilitating disease that leads to memory loss and eventual physical incapacity.

People who consumed the most saturated fat -- the kind of fat that comes from meat, poultry, dairy products and palm or coconut oils -- had 2.3 times the risk of developing Alzheimer's compared with those who consumed the lowest amount of saturated fats, the researchers said.

The study did not speculate on why the different kinds of fats were associated with different risks for the disease. It said that previous research suggests diets high in total fat, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol may increase the risk of dementia for reasons that are not clear.

The study, published in the Archives of Neurology, was financed by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

In a second study published in the same journal, researchers at Columbia University in New York concluded that carotenes and vitamins C and E obtained from diet or through supplements are not associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's.

The question arises because antioxidants -- vitamins and other nutrients found in food -- appear to reduce cellular damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are tiny particles from normal metabolism that may damage neurons, possibly leading to Alzheimer's.

The report said a look at 980 people who were free of dementia at the beginning of the study found that 242 developed Alzheimer's over the course of the research, and that consumption of carotenes or vitamins A and E had no protective effect.

-- Reuters