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Clinical research gets creative

01 Barber shops and cardiovascular health

The traditional male barber shop, with the familiar red-and-white-striped pole outside, is assuming a new role as a satellite outreach cardiovascular clinic for treating high blood pressure in African-American men.

Reporting in The New England Journal of Medicine, Ronald G. Victor, of the Smidt Heart Institute, Los Angeles, describes a study of 319 men with dangerously high blood pressure recruited from 52 local barber shops.

The men were divided into two groups. The first group’s barbers encouraged them to meet specially trained pharmacists who saw them monthly to prescribe blood pressure medication and write progress notes to their doctors.

The barbers encouraged men in the second group to visit their doctor and make lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and reducing salt consumption.

After six months, almost two thirds of the first group reduced their blood pressure to healthy levels compared with 11.7 per cent of the second group.

What’s the secret of this success? Many men do not go to the doctor for regular check-ups, but they do enjoy a regular trim at the barber’s shop, a manly environment where they can relax and enjoy the banter of masculine debate.

02 Forehead wrinkles as a CVD warning sign

No one welcomes the relief maps of creases and furrows we know as wrinkles. They are an affront to our vanity. But wrinkles are now causing a different kind of concern. Deep forehead wrinkles may indicate a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

This is actually a good news story because CVD risk factors are predominantly invisible. High blood pressure, for example, is known as “the silent killer” because it is associated with unexpected heart attacks and strokes. Similarly, we do not feel dangerous cholesterol coursing through our veins. But we do see wrinkles.

Yolande Esquirol, associate professor of occupational health at the Centre Hospitalier de Toulouse in France, says: “We explored forehead wrinkles as a marker because it’s so simple and visual.”

He told the European Society of Cardiology how he and colleagues had assessed forehead wrinkles risk in 3,200 adults. The subjects, all initially healthy, were aged 32, 42, 52 and 62 when the 20-year study began. They were all assigned wrinkle scores: zero indicated no wrinkles and three numerous deep wrinkles.

People scoring one had a slightly higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those without wrinkles. Subjects scoring two or three had almost ten times the risk of dying than those scoring zero, after adjustments for age, blood pressure, diabetes, education, gender, heart rate and blood fat levels.

Dr Esquirol says further studies are needed to confirm the results, but physicians could begin risk-free, cost-free wrinkle-gazing immediately. Researchers have yet to discover the clinical relationship between wrinkles and CVD.

03 Sauna therapy to lower blood pressure

Most people in the UK probably think of a sauna as a luxury, but Finnish people regard it as a necessity and with good reason. There are reported to be three million saunas in Finland, an average of one per household. The sauna is regarded as a place for physical and mental relaxation.

The American Journal of Medicine recently reported that the risk of developing high blood pressure was nearly 50 per cent lower among men who had a sauna four to seven times a week compared to men who only had one a week.

A sauna may cause a 2C rise in body temperature, resulting in a widening of blood vessels, and in turn an increase in blood flow and reduction in blood pressure. Regular saunas are also reported to improve endothelial function. The endothelium is a thin membrane which helps to regulate blood clotting, immune function and relaxation of blood vessels. Additionally, relaxation of body and mind may also benefit blood pressure.

04 IVF babies at greater risk of cardiovascular issues

Children conceived through intensive in vitro fertilisation treatment may be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease in later life, according to a study comparing 65 pre-school IVF children with 57 who were naturally conceived.

The Swiss researchers, from the University Hospital In Bern, believe this may be because artificial reproduction techniques, in which sperm and egg are stored in a medium, may affect blood vessels. The study followed tests with mice which found cardiovascular abnormalities were more common in mice conceived by IVF.