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Digestion + Nutrition | 0 Comments
One of the best things you can do for your overall health and well-being is to maintain a healthy diet. When you consume locally grown, organic, whole foods it optimizes your health and provides your body with the foundation it needs to heal from illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disorders.
To put it simply, our bodies can be healed with proper nutrition and healthy eating habits.
Eating healthy foods regularly, being mindful of portion size and the timing of meals, and combining foods for efficient digestion will help you to heal your body and optimize your health.
Many of us consider eating healthy to be a no-brainer. We know that eating our veggies and limiting desserts is a good idea, but we don’t always know what foods to eat to optimize our health, so I’m sharing some foods that pack a nutritional punch and are well-known for their ability to heal the body.
Top 10 Foods Dr. Judy Recommends for Overall Health
Avocados are a nutrient-dense fruit that contains at least 20 vitamins and minerals. They are also composed of seventy percent monounsaturated fatty acids, a type of healthy fat that promotes heart health by blocking the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). In addition, high levels of fiber, beta-sitosterol compounds, magnesium, and potassium have been shown to reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure in multiple human studies (1). All of these nutrients are plentiful in avocados.
Berries, specifically blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, are nutritional powerhouses and consuming them has been shown to decrease the risk of inflammation, heart disease, and cancer. This is due in part to the following three compounds:
- Antioxidants: substances that inhibit oxidation and deterioration; they protect cells from damage and disease.
- Flavonoids: powerful antioxidants that help boost the immune system and reduce internal inflammation.
- Resveratrol: an antioxidant that has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain and support healthy brain function.
Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are best known as flavor agents. They can take a simple dish from boring and bland to flavorful and delicious. That’s not all they are good for, however. The antioxidants in onions can help reduce the risk of colon, ovarian, and mouth cancers, and their sulfur compounds have been shown to prevent the growth of tumors by protecting cells from mutation (2).
Similarly, a study of 345 breast cancer patients found that increasing garlic consumption, along with onion and fiber, could reduce the risk of breast cancer (3). Eating onions several times a week and consuming a clove of raw garlic each day is the best way to reap the rewards of these anti-inflammatory foods on a consistent basis.
Eggs have gotten a bad rap over the years due to their high cholesterol content, but eggs are not bad for your health or your heart. Studies have shown that eggs help regulate cholesterol absorption and inflammation in the bloodstream, which balances the ratio of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) to low-density lipoproteins (LDLs). This balancing act helps to reduce the risk of heart disease (4). To get the most nutrition from this protein-packed food, choose the cage-free variety.
The health benefits of coconut oil have been questioned as of late, but like eggs, it is a health supportive food. Studies have shown that increasing your intake of saturated fats like coconut oil can boost your body’s HDL, or good cholesterol, levels. Since your brain, spinal cord, and nerves are made up of twenty-five percent cholesterol, consuming coconut oil may help improve neurological health (5).
Green Leafy Vegetables
Arguably, the greatest property of green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and swiss chard is their anti-inflammatory potency. They are also loaded with antioxidants, like vitamins A, C, and K which can protect your brain from oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
Wild caught salmon is one of the most nutritious foods available. It’s rich in Omega-3 fatty acids as well as several vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Selenium. Its rich nutritional profile has been shown to increase lifespan, and prevent illnesses, like heart disease and cancer.
Sweet potatoes are a rich source of several vital nutrients, including fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and beta-carotene. They have also been shown to stabilize blood sugar.
A study published in Metabolism journal showed that treating diabetic patients with Caiapo, a type of white sweet potato, improved insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone responsible for transporting sugar from the blood to the tissues where it is used for energy. An improvement in insulin sensitivity allows this process to occur more efficiently, enabling the body to maintain normal blood sugar levels (6).
Flaxseeds have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help manage diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. They are also a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, and minerals like thiamine and magnesium.
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussel sprouts, are low in calories and packed with nutrients. Their individual nutrition profiles vary, but they are all high in dietary fiber as well as vitamins A, C, and K. In addition, cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates – sulfur compounds with cancer-fighting properties (7).
Each of these foods packs a nutritional punch and can help to improve your overall health. However, it’s not enough to simply consider the nutrition content of foods, we must also consider the way in which we are eating. How we eat is just as important as what we eat.
Here are a few guidelines that will help you to make the most of these nutritious foods:
- Fill 60-70% of your plate with a variety of vegetables.
- Incorporate 20 grams of animal-based or plant-based protein into each meal.
- Consume healthy fats at each meal, like avocados, coconut, olives, nuts, and seeds. Fat consumption should be 15-20% of each meal.
- Gluten-free grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats should be limited to 2-3 servings each week.
- Limit fruit consumption to 2 servings per day. If possible, choose berries as they have a low glycemic index.
- Keep refined sugar consumption to a minimum, no more than 25 grams daily.
- Avoid processed and hydrogenated oils (margarine, canola oil, soy, and cottonseed oil), as well as preservatives, food additives, and dyes.
- When consuming animal products, choose grass-fed, free-range, and wild caught varieties.
- Avoid genetically modified foods, like corn, soy, beets, and papayas.
- Choose organic and locally grown foods as much as possible.
The most important guideline of all is: listen to your body! While all of these foods and guidelines can be beneficial, they may not all work for your unique body and needs. Remember, there is no one size fits all diet, so choose the foods and ways of eating that are supportive of your health goals and make you feel your best.
Digestion + Nutrition | 0 Comments
In 400 B.C Hippocrates, a Greek physician and “The Father of Medicine” said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates was well aware of the impact that food could have on a person’s health, and during his time it was common to use food to treat and prevent illnesses. For instance, the juice of liver was used to treat eye diseases connected to Vitamin A deficiency (1), and garlic was used to cure athlete’s foot.
As time passed, women began working outside the home and our societies became more medically and technologically advanced. Along with these advancements came a change in the way we produce and consume food.
During World War II, more women entered the workplace and spent less time at home, so convenience became a priority. Processed foods became more prevalent, fast food outlets became more common, microwaves replaced ovens, and food became less nutritious. These changes have led to a major increase in chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease over the last 50-60 years (2).
While these illnesses are still fairly common in modern society, our ideas of nutrition are slowly shifting. The rising popularity of the paleolithic (paleo) diet and documentaries like Michael Pollan’s Food Inc, have encouraged many people to reduce their consumption of heavily processed, genetically modified, packaged foods and consume more locally grown, organic, whole foods.
Even the USDA has changed it’s nutrition guidelines. In 2011, they replaced the food pyramid, a triangular diagram with a hierarchy of recommended foods and servings, with My Plate – a round plate divided into five food groups with vegetables being the largest division. These changes may seem small, but their impact is great.
All of the cells and organs in our bodies depend on the food we eat for proper growth and development; and the choices we make affect the way our cells communicate with each other and how our bodies function as a whole.
They also affect the health of our family, as the predisposition for many health conditions is passed on genetically. Fortunately, a predisposition for disease does not guarantee that it will occur. We have the ability to turn off the expression of certain genes by eating well (3).
Consuming locally grown, organic foods will drastically reduce the number of chemicals and additives that you put into your body, and avoiding genetically modified foods, like soy, corn, cottonseed oil, beets, and papayas will help boost your long-term health.
The evolution of nutrition hasn’t ended with the movement from heavily processed foods to more natural, local, and sustainable foods, however. It’s also changing the way that we eat, with many people choosing slow living and eating over fast food (4).
The slow living philosophy echoes many of my own sentiments about food and eating, including making conscious choices about the food we purchase, supporting local farmers, preparing most meals at home, and enjoying those meals mindfully.
Eating with such attention and intention gives our bodies time to relax, which helps us digest the food we eat more efficiently and maximizes the absorption of nutrients.
The food industry isn’t perfect by any means, but it is ever evolving as is our understanding of nutrition. As new research continues to surface about the best nutritional practices and disease prevention, so will the recommendations that I make to patients in my practice.
I believe that Hippocrates was on to something – the food we eat has the ability to heal us or harm us, and my recommendations will always err on the side of healing.
Digestion + Nutrition | 0 Comments
What should I eat?
It’s a question I hear often, and with good reason. There are so many different diets being promoted these days – vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, high fat, low carb…with so many options it’s hard to determine which one to follow. There is a simple solution, however.
Eat what works for your body.
It would be great if there was one diet that worked for everyone. Unfortunately, since each of us has a unique biochemical makeup, our food needs are also unique. We need a customized approach to eating.
Everyone needs carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat to function optimally, the ratios may vary, however, depending on what stage of life you’re in and what your health goals are. For example, if you are pregnant, your food and nutrition needs may not be the same as someone who is preparing to run a marathon.
Instead of looking at food trends to decide what to eat, I recommend getting to know your body. This will help you to have a clearer understanding of the type of diet that is best for you. One of the first steps in this process is getting your vitamin and mineral levels tested, so you can see what nutrients you’re lacking. A healthy diet will take your nutrient needs into consideration.
In addition to having your vitamin and mineral levels tested, I also recommend getting tested for food sensitivities and intolerances. Sometimes, there are foods that your body doesn’t respond too favorably. A food sensitivity test will help provide you with that information, so you can make future food choices accordingly.
Another test I recommend to help you understand your dietary needs is Pathway Fit. It’s a genetic analysis that can determine the best diet for you based on your DNA. With the results, a healthcare practitioner can determine if a diet higher in fat, or carbohydrates, or protein is best for you based on your genetic needs and predispositions.
Tests provide us with a wealth of information, but a healthy diet will also take into account what’s happening outside your body, specifically the season and outside temperature. If you are in a warm, tropical climate, your dietary needs will be different than someone who is living in a very cold climate. You may notice that during the summer you need more raw veggies and cooling foods, like watermelon and cucumber. During winter, however, you may crave more cooked vegetables and warming spices, like cinnamon and cloves.
There is no right or wrong diet. There is only the diet that works best for you at any given time of life.
That said, I will offer a few general nutrition recommendations. Keep in mind that these may need to be adjusted to suit the needs of your body.
As a general rule, I recommend that my patients’ diet consist of all major food groups: carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat. Ideally, most of your carbohydrates would come from vegetables, like sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and other root and cruciferous vegetables. You can also fulfill your daily carbohydrate needs with fruit, 1-2 servings daily.
As for protein, I recommend an average of 20 grams of protein per meal, or 20% of your overall food intake. This protein can be plant-based or from animal sources – choose the option that makes you feel best. A healthy diet also includes healthy fats, like olive oil and avocado. These should make up 10-15% of your overall diet. It’s best if the remaining 70% is composed of green, leafy vegetables.
I also recommend eating local, organic, and seasonal foods as much as possible, and choosing foods that are free of GMO’s and pesticides.
There are many different diets, but the best way to approach food and eating is to eat foods that you enjoy while taking your unique needs into consideration. This combination will help you to reach your health goals and feel good while you’re doing it.
Blood Sugar + Heart Health | 0 Comments
It’s heart health month, and this is the fourth blog post in my heart health series. So far I’ve shared information on the anatomy of the heart, the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease, and offered practical resources that you can use to keep your heart healthy and well.
I’m switching gears a bit in this post, however, because I want to talk about something that is often overlooked in the medical community when it comes to heart health:
You can eat all the right foods, exercise regularly, maintain the proper weight, and have great blood work, but if you aren’t managing your emotions well, you increase your risk of developing heart disease or having an acute cardiac event, like a heart attack or stroke.
Harvard recently conducted a study that showed a correlation between emotional health and heart disease, specifically as it relates to depression. They found that depression can contribute to heart disease and can also be a side effect of having a heart attack.
The heart is sensitive to stress and is impacted by every emotion that we feel. Stressful events deprive the heart of oxygen and increase the amount of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, that we produce. When these levels increase, our blood oxygen levels decrease. This is why many people experience cardiac events when they are under chronic stress.
But life happens, right?
We’re all going to experience stress and worry at times because we have no control over many of the things that happen to us. We do, however, have control over how we respond to the emotional stress and how we manage it.
When we experience stress, it’s important that we deal with the emotions that are associated with it. Instead of holding on to intense emotions, like anger and resentment, find ways to process them – seek support from a trusted friend or mental health practitioner, write, or move your body.
Sadness, depression, and loneliness are other important emotions to manage. Depression significantly increases your risk of developing heart disease, so if you are depressed it’s important to seek support from a medical professional who can help you work through it and understand its cause – is it related to particular life events? Do you have a neurotransmitter disorder? Is it related to a hormone imbalance? In addition to seeking support, it’s also important to find ways to participate in activities that bring you joy and surround yourself with love – self-love and love from others.
Love is a heart mender. The energy of love from ourselves, family, friends, and pets nourishes our heart and helps keep us healthy and well.
Another great way to find relief from emotional stress is exercise. We all know how important exercise is when it comes to things like weight loss and managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but it also plays a significant role in mood stabilization. Studies have shown that depressive symptoms decrease with regular movement or exercise, like walking, hiking, bike riding, and yoga. These activities relieve stress and provide your body with the opportunity to release or discharge emotions.
I also find it helpful to practice gratitude and forgiveness – set aside a few minutes each day to write down 5 things that you are grateful for or try this forgiveness exercise.
Health is more than just physical. Manage your diet, exercise, and also make time to address your mental and emotional health.
The health of your heart depends on it.
Blood Sugar + Heart Health | 0 Comments
In honor of heart health month, I’m sharing information and resources that you can utilize to keep your heart healthy and prevent heart disease. In my last blog post I defined heart disease and explained the risk factors involved in its development, so I thought it fitting in this post to discuss prevention.
What are the things you can do on your own to prevent the development of heart disease?
You can start with your plate, and make sure you are getting nine essential nutrients:
1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Consuming omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, help keep your arteries and heart muscle healthy by decreasing inflammation of the heart and preventing blood clots. They also help you to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and regulate blood pressure.
This vital nutrient can be found in the following foods: wild caught salmon, cod, bison, and eggs. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you can find Omega 3s in flax seeds, flax oil, chia seeds, and walnuts. You can also supplement if you find that you are unable to keep your levels stable using diet alone. If you must supplement, I recommend the following over the counter brands: Nordic Naturals and Carlson’s. We also carry a brand in the clinic, Nutritional Essentials, that I recommend frequently to patients. Before you supplement, be sure to contact your primary care physician to find out your nutrient levels.
2. CoQ10 or Coenzyme Q10
This antioxidant is the energy producer for every cell in your body, including the heart. Without it, your heart ages faster than is ideal. CoQ10 is especially important if you are taking cholesterol medication as cholesterol medication naturally depletes your body’s supply of CoQ10.
You can find it in organ meats – liver, kidney, and heart, as well as grass-fed beef, wild caught mackerel, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower. You can also supplement with a high-quality ubiquinone, this is a form of CoQ10 that is easily absorbed into the body.
L-Carnitine is an amino acid that is found in each one of your cells, and it is really important for heart health. It helps to transport long-chain fatty acids across the inner mitochondrial membrane so they can be converted into energy for the heart to use, which improves exercise endurance. In addition, it helps to break down fats and cholesterol.
You can maintain healthy levels of L-Carnitine by eating avocados and a variety of animal protein. Be sure to consume animal protein that is hormone and antibiotic free, and pasture raised, when possible.
Magnesium is the number one mineral deficiency I see in patients.This is unfortunate because it is really important for heart health. It allows for proper contraction of the heart and aids in relaxing the blood vessels, which helps to maintain normal blood pressure levels.
While it can be challenging to get magnesium from food since our soil is so depleted here in the United States, increasing your intake of green leafy veggies, like spinach and kale, and consuming nuts, like almonds and walnuts, will help keep your magnesium levels within normal range. If you need to supplement, however, I recommend finding a high-quality magnesium glycinate – Magnesium Complete is the one I recommend most often. As with any supplementation, it’s important to have your vitamin and mineral levels checked prior to taking them, so you and your doctor know exactly what your body needs.
These antioxidants are found in purple and red foods, like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and beets. They help reduce the risk of stroke by increasing nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels, which helps to lower blood pressure. Polyphenols also increase HDL, good cholesterol, and lower bad cholesterol, or LDL, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant found in red wine, grapes, and dark chocolate. It is a polyphenol that prevents blood clots and helps to balance blood pressure by supporting healthy dilation of your blood vessels.
One way to increase consumption of resveratrol is to have a glass of high-quality red wine on occasion. My favorite are grenaches as they have the lowest levels of tannins and sulfites – many people react less to grenaches than other wines.
Get your resveratrol from 70-80% dark chocolate, cacao powder, or cacao nibs.
7. Folic Acid
Folic acid in conjunction with B12 lowers homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid and by-product of protein metabolization, which in large concentrations has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
You can maintain healthy levels of folic acid by consuming green leafy veggies – spinach, kale, chard, arugula, bok choy and eating pasture raised eggs.
8. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is an essential fat soluble vitamin as it is one of the main vitamins responsible for bone mineralization and blood clotting. Vitamin K also helps you keep calcium in our bones and out of the arteries of the heart, preventing them from becoming hardened and blocked.
You can find Vitamin K in a variety of food sources: dandelion and mustard greens, swiss chard, kale, brussel sprouts, green onions, cabbage, broccoli, and cucumbers.
If you suspect that your vitamin K levels are low, reach out to your primary care physician for testing. Since vitamin k controls clotting patterns in the blood, I do not recommend supplementing without first checking in with a doctor.
This simple sugar is a component of B2, or riboflavin, which the body uses to make energy. Your heart needs d-ribose in order to function properly. It can be found in grass-fed red meat, pasture raised poultry, wild caught fish, nuts, spinach, asparagus, and broccoli.
Prevention starts on your plate –
Making adjustments to your diet could greatly decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Consuming a variety of foods – grass-fed and pasture raised meats, wild caught fish, nuts, seeds, and a variety of leafy greens will help ensure that you are getting the proper nutrients to maintain the health of your heart. If you feel as though you need to supplement, however, check in with your doctor for guidance.
Blood Sugar + Heart Health | 0 Comments
Heart Disease. We hear this term often but rarely is it defined.
So what is heart disease and how do we know if we are at risk of developing it?
Heart disease is broken down into two distinct categories: acute and chronic.
An acute cardiac event such as a stroke or heart attack is characterized by chest pain, chest tightness, discomfort or angina, difficulty breathing, numbness or weakness in the left arm or leg, dizziness or lightheadedness, and acute pain that is experienced without relief.
Many times patients report that there is increased pressure in their chest like someone is sitting on top of them. Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, and upper abdomen can also be a sign that you’re having an acute cardiac event. These symptoms require an immediate medical assessment to rule out the possibility of a heart attack.
Chronic heart disease, on the other hand, is the slow development and aging of the heart caused by damage or closing of the blood vessels due to plaque buildup. As plaque builds up in the blood vessels and arteries, it becomes oxidized and it causes an increase in blood pressure leading to a decrease of oxygen in the blood.
Unlike the sudden nature of an acute cardiac event, these symptoms develop over an extended period of time and while they can lead to a heart attack or acute cardiac event, they can be also be prevented if we are able to make the lifestyle and dietary changes necessary to keep our heart healthy and well.
Now that we know what heart disease is, and we know that the heart is your most important organ, let’s talk about some of the risk factors that lead to its development.
As we get older, there is naturally an increase in damage to the heart and a narrowing and weakening of the arteries and heart muscles. It’s part of the aging process, so it’s important to get tested regularly for heart disease once we reach the age of 50. I recommend getting a baseline EKG and echocardiogram at 50 and every 2-3 years after. These tests can detect many dysfunctions of the heart, including anatomical and congenital defects.
I also recommend getting a carotid ultrasound to measure plaque buildup and to make sure that blood is flowing efficiently to all areas of the heart. These tests can be ordered by your primary care physician and are essential to ensure that the heart is functioning well.
Males are generally at greater risk of developing heart disease. However, the risk of developing heart disease as a female increases significantly after menopause due to a decrease in estrogen production. Estrogen is cardioprotective and healthy estrogen levels help prevent plaque buildup in the arteries and blood vessels and ultimately, keep our hearts young, healthy, and strong.
In addition to having your heart function tested with an EKG, echocardiogram, and sonogram, it’s important for women to also have their female hormone levels tested as they approach menopause. If hormone levels are out of balance, they can be treated with a bioidentical, natural source of estrogen.
3. Family History
If you have a family history of heart disease – coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, heart failure, or stroke – you have an increased risk of developing heart disease yourself. Family history is determined by the following criteria:
A father or brother who developed heart disease before the age of 55
A mother or sister who developed heart disease before the age of 65
Many heart abnormalities, including valve and anatomical defects, are genetic, so it is important to make sure your primary care physician is aware of your family history so they can monitor your heart health accordingly.
Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with people who have never smoked, even if they exercise and maintain a healthy weight. Nicotine restricts the blood vessels and damages the inner lining of the arteries, which can lead to a buildup of plaque.
Stopping smoking is the single best thing you can do to support the health of your heart – your risk of developing heart disease significantly decreases after you quit.
5. Poor Diet
A diet high in hydrogenated and trans fats also puts you at risk of developing heart disease. Hydrogenated fats are made from vegetable oils that are very unstable in their natural form, meaning they spoil or become rancid quickly. To avoid this problem, manufacturers alter the fat by adding hydrogen atoms, this solidifies the oil which was previously liquid at room temperature. Margarine is a classic example of a hydrogenated fat. These oils are quite damaging to the heart as they increase cholesterol levels in the blood, which can lead to clogged arteries.
In addition, consuming sugar, processed foods, and carbohydrates in excess, can also cause early damaging of the heart and increase the risk of developing heart disease.
6. High Blood Pressure
Elevated and uncontrolled blood pressure can result in the hardening or thickening of the arteries and narrowing of the vessels through which the blood flows, increasing your risk of stroke or heart attack.
7. High Cholesterol Levels
When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it builds up in the walls of the arteries. This can cause atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease. If you have high cholesterol, it’s important to monitor it with a comprehensive lipid panel – blood work that not only measures total cholesterol, good cholesterol, and bad cholesterol but also measures the size of the cholesterol particles in your blood and how quickly they are oxidizing. The more abnormal they are in size, the higher the risk of damaging the arteries and blood vessels.
Anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is considered obese. Obesity, a term used to describe the health condition of anyone significantly over their ideal weight, can contribute to increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes. All of these conditions can cause damage to the heart and increase the risk of heart disease.
In stressful situations, the body releases chemicals such as cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) to prepare our bodies for action. When we are in danger this response is healthy, however, when we are chronically stressed these chemicals are produced in increased quantities all the time which can cause damage to the heart.
10. Exposure to Toxins
Environmental toxins and heavy metals, like mercury, lead, and arsenic, greatly increase the risk of developing heart disease since they cause premature aging of the heart, arteries, and blood vessels. If you have a history of heart disease, have high blood pressure, or are at high risk of developing heart disease, it’s important to have your heavy metal levels tested and begin chelation, if necessary.
* * *
It’s important to know your risk factors. It’s the first step to preventing heart disease. Chronic heart disease can be managed if it is diagnosed and addressed early.
Reach out to your primary care physician to get the proper testing – EKG, echocardiogram, and a comprehensive lipid panel. And if you ever experience an acute cardiac event, contact your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.
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