HEALTH

Weekender

Muscle mass linked to heart disease risk

MAINTAINING muscle tissue volume may help to ward off heart attack/stroke – at least in men.
The amount of lean muscle a healthy person has in middle age is linked to their future risk of heart disease, suggests research in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Maintaining muscle tissue volume may be an effective means of promoting cardiovascular health and warding off heart attacks and strokes later on, at least in men, conclude the researchers.
Muscular tissue volume starts to progressively ebb away from the mid-30s onwards at a rate of around 3 per cent every decade. It has an active role in various metabolic processes, and its decline is associated with, among other things, disability and a heightened risk of death.

Maintaining muscle tissue volume may promote cardiovascular health and ward off heart attacks and strokes in future. — AFP

Previous research indicates that muscle mass is associated with heart attack/stroke risk, but these studies have focused on the health outcomes of people with existing heart disease.
The researchers wanted to find out if muscle mass in middle age might also predict the subsequent risk of poor cardiovascular health in people without heart disease.
So they monitored the number of new cases of cardiovascular disease arising over a period of 10 years in 2,020 participants, 1,019 of whom were aged 45+ in 2001-2002.
None of these older men and women had heart disease at the start of the study, according to the lifestyle information they provided, including how closely they followed a Mediterranean diet, and how much physical activity they did.
Levels of circulating blood fats and indicators of inflammation were measured, as were blood pressure and weight, all of which are potential risk factors for heart disease.
Skeletal muscle mass was calculated using previously published data and adjusted for weight and height (body mass index).
During the 10 year monitoring period, 272 (just under 27 per cent) fatal and non-fatal cases of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and minor stroke, arose among the 1,019 middle aged participants.
Men were around four times as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as women, after accounting for potentially influential factors. And muscle mass volume was associated with cardiovascular disease risk.
The fewest cases occurred in the third of people with the highest muscle volume compared with those in the lowest range at the start of the monitoring period.
Those with the highest muscle tissue volume were 81 per cent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, for example.
The prevalence of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity – all risk factors for cardiovascular disease – were all lower among those with the highest muscle volume.
And those in this group tended to be younger, male and smokers. And they were also more physically active, had higher levels of income and education, and ate a Mediterranean-style diet.
But when further, more detailed analysis was carried out, muscle volume remained significantly associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk, irrespective of diet, household income, and educational attainment, as well as known risk factors, such as diabetes among those aged 45 and older, but only among men.
The gender disparity may be partly explained by higher muscle volume in men to start with and hormonal differences between the sexes in the ageing process, suggest the researchers.
This is an observational study, and as such, can’t establish cause. Nevertheless, the results “point to the importance of (skeletal muscle mass) preservation in relation to (cardiovascular disease) risk,” they write.
And they suggest that periodic physical activity, including resistance training, and a diet rich in protein, may help preserve lean muscle mass as people age. — The BMJ


Workers made impotent by pesticides

WORKERS exposed to pesticides at a UK-funded firm in the Democratic Republic of Congo have complained of becoming impotent, a rights group has said.
Feronia, which dominates DR Congo’s palm-oil sector, had failed to give workers adequate protective equipment, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
The UK government’s development bank, CDC, owns 38 per cent of Feronia in DR Congo.
It said Feronia had invested heavily in protective equipment and all workers were required to wear it.
Feronia, a Canadian-based firm, said it was committed to operating to international standards.
The firm added that it had spent $360,000 on personal protective equipment in the last three years, which workers had been trained to use, and it had implemented a policy requiring the equipment to be worn in the workplace.
Feronia and its local subsidiary, Plantations et Huileries du Congo (PHC), employs thousands of workers at palm oil plantations in DR Congo.
PHC has received millions of dollars from the development banks of Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.
“These banks can play an important role promoting development, but they are sabotaging their mission by failing to ensure the company they finance respects the rights of its workers and communities on the plantations,” HRW researcher Luciana Téllez-Chávez said.
What is HRW’s evidence?
In a report entitled A Toxic Mix of Abuses on Congo’s Oil Palm Plantations, HRW said it had interviewed more than 40 workers and two-thirds of them “told us that they had become impotent since they started the job”.
Impotence – along with shortness of breath, headaches, and weight loss that the workers complained about – were health problems “consistent with exposure to pesticides in general, as described in scientific literature”, HRW said.
“Many [also] suffered from skin irritation, itchiness, blisters, eye problems, or blurred vision – all symptoms that are consistent with what scientific texts and the products’ labels describe as health consequences of exposure to these pesticides,” the rights group added.
Téllez-Chávez said workers who had been interviewed had permeable cotton overalls – not the waterproof overalls.
“If pesticides accidentally spilled, the toxic liquid would likely touch their skin,” she added.
At the Yaligimba plantation, the company dumped the waste from its palm oil mill next to workers’ homes.
The effluents formed a “foul-smelling stream”, and eventually flowed into a natural pond where women and children bathe and wash cooking utensils.
“Residents of a village of several hundred people downstream told us the river was their only source of drinking water,” Ms Téllez-Chávez said.
If unchecked and untreated, effluent-dumping could eventually also cause fish to suffocate and die, or cause large growths of algae that could adversely affect the health of people who came into contact with polluted water or consumed tainted fish, HRW added.
The rights group also accused Feronia of paying “extreme poverty” wages, saying women were the lowest-paid, with some earning as little as $7.30 a month gathering fruit.
HRW said the development banks should ensure the businesses they invest in pay living wages to their workers.
In a statement, CDC said: “Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) is an organic mix of natural waste oils and fats and has been discharged into rivers since the plantation came into being in 1911 and does not threaten human health.
“A treatment plant for POME represents a multimillion dollar investment – money that the company has chosen instead to spend on housing, clean water provision, healthcare and educational facilities for employees, their families and other members of the local communities.
“It is the aim of the company to build treatment plants for POME, but is regrettably not in a financial position to do so currently as it continues to make heavy losses.
“In addition, the company has refurbished or dug 72 new boreholes for the provision of clean water in the last six years.”
The company said working conditions had improved considerably since the involvement of the European banks in 2013.
Employees were now paid substantially more than the minimum wage for agriculture in DR Congo and the average worker earned $3.30 per day – higher than what a local teacher would earn, it said.
It also confirmed that it had invested considerably in access to safe drinking water.
“Feronia operates on a social mandate with local communities. Without their support we would not be able to function. We recognise that there is still a great deal to be done and are committed to operating to international standards. We will continue to work tirelessly to achieve these objectives,” the company added in a statement. – BBC

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