Marriage is good for your heart and other new research
March 31st, 2014
02:13 PM ET

Marriage is good for your heart and other new research

More than 13,000 cardiovascular experts met in Washington over the past few days for the Annual American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions, where more than 2,000 studies are being presented so doctors and researchers can learn about the latest research in diagnosing, treating and preventing heart disease.  Here's a small sample of the studies presented:

Married people have healthier hearts

You might have heard it before; being married may be good for your health.

In a new study, researchers screened 3.5 million adults for cardiovascular problems and found that those who were married had less heart disease and healthier blood vessels throughout the body than people who were single, divorced or widowed.

Dr. Jeffrey Kuvin, spokesperson for the American College of Cardiology, says the findings may be linked in part to the effects of stress and the strength of a marriage. In a healthy marriage, there may be less conflict and less stress.

Extreme stress, on the other hand, such as the loss of a spouse, has been linked to broken heart syndrome, a condition in which people can die from a broken heart, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy.

The health effects of marriage may also be linked to the psychosocial aspects of the partnership. A spouse may be more likely to remind you to go see the doctor, to take your medicines, to socialize and to get some exercise.

Researchers say the greatest health benefits were seen in those aged 50 and younger. In that group, being married lowered the risk of vascular disease by 12%. In those over 60, the risk was reduced by 4%.

Women, go easy on the diet drinks

Older women may want to cut back on their diet drinks, be it soda or other beverages, according to a new study.

Researchers found postmenopausal women who drank two or more diet drinks a day were at higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.

Compared to women who drank little or no diet beverages each day, this group was 30% more likely to have cardiovascular trouble and 50% more likely to die as a result.

This is one of the largest studies to examine this issue but it only looked at women who were 62 years old on average.

Though other studies have come to similar conclusions, researchers are quick to point out that finding a link between diet drinks and heart trouble doesn't mean the drinks cause these problems. They don't know if the association is due to caffeine, artificial sweeteners or an increased appetite for sugary sweets that can go along with drinking diet beverages.

"It's too soon to tell people to change their behavior based on this study,” says Dr. Ankur Vyas, a fellow at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and lead investigator of the study. “However, based on these and other findings we have a responsibility to do more research to see what is going on and further define the relationship, if one truly exists."

Statins may help your sex life

A new study suggests that cholesterol-lowering medications called statins may improve ED or erectile dysfunction - but don't run to the pharmacy just yet.

Scientists looked at 11 studies in men who had both high cholesterol and ED and found significant improvements in the latter. Past studies have been mixed as to whether or not taking statins improves ED.

“The increase in erectile function scores with statins was approximately one-third to one-half of what has been reported with drugs like Viagra, Cialis or Levitra,” said lead author Dr. John Kostis, director of the Cardiovascular Institute and associate dean for Cardiovascular Research at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

ED is often an early sign of heart disease. It's common in older men, especially in those who are overweight, have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or already suffer from heart problems.

Kostis does not recommend that men with healthy cholesterol levels use statins to help with ED.  But, he says, "for men with erectile dysfunction who need statins to control cholesterol, this may be an extra benefit."  Kostis says larger studies are needed to give us the final word on the role of statins play when it comes to ED.

Bariatric surgery helps control Type 2 diabetes

New research finds that bariatric surgery helps obese Type 2 diabetics control their disease so well that most no longer need insulin therapy.

In fact, nine out of 10 patients who had surgery didn't need insulin at all, compared to about five out of 10 who received medication and counseling only.

Bariatric patients continued to see benefits three years after the surgery and will be monitored for several years to come.

Obese people with Type 2 diabetes are at greater risk for heart and circulation problems. Only about 5% are able to control the disease and lose substantial weight through diet and exercise, according to Kuvin. Bariatric surgery may help those who have exhausted other options, he adds.

Get your kid's cholesterol checked

We don't tend to think of kids as having cholesterol problems, but because of the growing obesity epidemic, it’s becoming an issue.

Researchers found one out of three children screened had borderline or high cholesterol. The study, done in Texas, looked at the medical records of almost 13,000 children between the ages of 9 and 11.

The worry is that high cholesterol numbers in childhood may increase the risk for atherosclerosis - hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels - as an adult.

Three years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics adopted recommendations that children get screened between the ages of 9 and 11, and again between ages 17 to 21.

Early detection can lead to early lifestyle interventions such as regular exercise and better eating habits. The study authors say medications are usually prescribed to only about 1 or 2% of children, usually because of a genetic disorder.

Researchers say it is too early to know how often pediatricians are testing children for cholesterol. Asking about screening at the next pediatric visit may help protect your child's heart.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.